Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. has spent much of his professional life juggling two worlds -- and sometimes many more worlds than that. At age 25, he wrote the well-received memoir, A Darker Side of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. Now a writer for the Washington Post’s Writers Group, he addressed members of NSBA’s Hispanic Caucus at NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego. He spoke recently with ASBJ Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy.
Are you a liberal or a conservative? From reading your columns, it’s hard to tell.
First, I'm glad to hear you say that. When I started writing for newspapers and, eventually, for websites -- 24 years and nearly 3,000 columns ago -- it was my goal to be unpredictable, hard to peg down, and known for calling balls and strikes regardless of who is pitching. Mission accomplished.
I'm liberal in some things (gay marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, etc.), and conservative in others (death penalty, less government, lower taxes, accountability in public schools, etc.). Outside of politicians, partisan cheerleaders, and media commentators, that's how most people are. It's called being human.
You’ve been critical of both the Democrats and the Republicans concerning how they’ve dealt with immigration and other issues of importance to Latinos. Which party, do you believe, is better positioned to win Latinos’ votes in 2014 and 2016?
There is no doubt -- zero -- that the Democratic Party is better positioned to win Latino votes in 2014 and 2016 ... and also 2018 and 2020. I know this because, in the 14 presidential elections since 1960 -- 14! -- the Democratic candidate for president has always won the majority of the Latino vote. [But] no one should assume that, just because Democrats are “better positioned” to win the majority of Latino votes (because of brand loyalty, tradition, and bad alternatives) that this means Democrats deserve those votes. Oftentimes, they don't. But they get them anyway.
Were you surprised by the outcry from Latinos after you criticized U.S. Olympic runner and 1500 meter silver medalist Leo Manzano for taking a celebratory lap with the Mexican flag in addition to the U.S. flag?
I was. The response was incredible. And I'm proud of that piece, for getting people to think and touching a nerve -- maybe not in that order. There were more than 11,000 comments, both pro and con, on the CNN website (a good showing is 2,000). The piece split the parties (some Democrats liked, some Republicans disliked), and split families (my Mexican-born wife hated the piece, but her Mexican-born sister and mother loved it). My basic point was that there is a time and place for that sort of display, and this was neither the time nor the place. Many people agreed with me, including many Latinos.
How can U.S. schools narrow the wide achievement gap that exists between black and Latino students and the general population?
Much of what I know about education I learned in the trenches, working for four years after college, as a substitute teacher in my old school district. There is lot of reasons that the achievement gap is there. Some, educators can control; some, they can't. The No. 1 thing they can control: low expectations. Not all kids are going to have my experience (become class valedictorian and go to Harvard), but all kids can learn. And it's not an unreasonable request that they all perform at grade level and not below it. So schools can do a lot to narrow the achievement gap between black and Latino kids on the one hand and whites and Asians on the other by treating kids equally and not letting prejudices about who can learn and who can't get in the way of setting high expectations for everyone.