In an article in Vanity Fair by A.A. Gill called America the Marvelous, the editors chose to illustrate the cover with a bus filled with American icons. Of all the possible people they could have chosen, the bus was packed with: Elvis Presley, Mark Twain, Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs, Jimi Hendrix, Babe Ruth and Andy Warhol.
Readers might not have spent much time analyzing the illustration but it begs consideration that the icons of America are all mostly artists with the exception of Jobs, who considered himself an artist, and Ruth, an athlete. All are white with the exception of Jimi Hendrix, who is mixed race. All are male except Monroe. And, all are dead.
I analyzed the illustration for quite some time and dug deep to select my own icons of America. These individuals would be selected on the importance of the impact that they had in my life as a naturalized Mexican living as a citizen in the United States of America.
For a Mexican in the United States, there is a shortage of the same species to pack into the bus. This does not mean that there is a shortage of Mexicans in the United States. Quite the opposite. But if you begin to search around for leaders in spaces like banking, government, sports, film, music, food, newspapers, magazines, technology, etc., they are impossible to find. There are some magazines like Latino Leaders, Poder Hispanic Magazine and Hispanic Executive that try their hardest to find those needles in the haystack, but even when they do, it is more likely than not that those folks are in the middle of their sandwich and answering to people above them.
If I had to pick only one musician to put on the bus for entertainment, my choices would be Canadians like Neil Young or Leonard Cohen, but to be fair, Madonna might be the best choice. Born in Bay City, Mich., in 1958, she may not be considered as vital as she once was on the street, but she sure made a historical impact, and she continues to place high in power rankings.
If I had to choose an athlete, I would choose the Brazilian Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pelé) for his role in the New York Cosmos and how he affected me, but he has also long since disappeared from the limelight. The Floridian surfer Kelly Slater seems a good choice. Not only does he monopolize his sport but he seems quintessentially American in face and character.
Writers? Easy: Toni Morrison. I struggle to select her best work, which means that she might have three books — “The Bluest Eye,” “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon” — that are still considerably better than the next best American writer.
For my fourth choice, I find it hard to choose between Leonard Peltier or Mumia Abu-Jamal to symbolize the persistence of injustice in the United States. Both were young, strong men looking to unravel the patterns of injustice in their societies, and both were imprisoned for life for crimes that they may or may not have committed. Both involved the murder of respective police officers, but more than that, they involved the inability of the individual to confront the establishment. For brevity and the historical symbolism of the holocaust of the indigenous people in America, I will pick Peltier on the bus.
For my fifth choice, I’ll go with Steve Jobs. As I maneuver from iMac to iPad to iPhone to iPod, his impact on my life is obvious.
For my sixth choice, I’ll go into the political orbit, and although she has not had an impact on my life yet, Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States of America, and she will break the gender wall that has existed in this country since the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery landed in the Chesapeake Bay in 1607. I can speculate comfortably that if Hillary Clinton plays her strategic cards properly and collaborates with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas, the Democratic party will enjoy at least 24 consecutive years of executive female leadership in the White House.
Taking the long route, I have chosen six American icons for the bus: Madonna, Kelly Slater, Toni Morrison, Leonard Peltier, Steve Jobs and Hillary Clinton. I am left with finding one more, and to do so, I need to choose a leader within the Latino community.
Henry Cisneros became our first go-to, but then he went behind the curtain because of sexual indiscretions. Bill Richardson was going to be our second go-to, but then he joined Cisneros behind the curtain of indiscretions, and Robert Menendez can’t seem to get away from accusations of sexual indiscretions in the Dominican Republic.
Some folks would make the claim that Cesar Chavez was something grand for Latinos in the United States, but I can’t get myself to agree or disagree. I was more in line with Bert Corona than I was with Chavez. Jorge Ramos, anchor at Univision, says that Sonia Sotomayor is working behind the scenes to create judicial systems of equality and that she should be considered our de facto leader. Again, I am not privy to what she does, because she doesn’t make it very public.
I asked a variety of thought leaders for their opinions. A senior government official requesting anonymity went outside the lines and chose Eva Longoria as his pick. “Eva Longoria is emerging as a political beacon of hope for the Hispanic community. In addition to having President Obama’s ear as well as the Democrats’ attention, she is accumulating a very nice fortune in Hollywood. Although her personal life is sometimes in shatters, she may become our Barack Obama.”
Pablo Ximénez de Sandoval, an editor at El País in Madrid, gave me the international perspective on the Latino leaders known in Spain:
From the Spanish vantage point, we know the musicians and the actors much better than we know the politicians. Among the few that we do know are the ones that get the most coverage like Marco Rubio, Antonio Villaraigosa, Tom Regalado, Julián Castro or Ted Cruz. Sometimes, as is the case with Cruz, we know them because their name sounds good in Spanish but we don’t really know their positions on important affairs. Julián Castro had great visibility at the Democratic Convention of 2012, he might possibly make a viable leader for the community.
Seventy-one percent of Latinos polled by the Pew Center could not name “the most important Hispanic leader in the country today.” Sixty-two percent said they did not know of one, and 9% said “no one.” In a follow-up question on how important it is for the U.S. Hispanic community to have a national leader advancing its concerns, three-quarters of Hispanic adults say it is “extremely” (29%) or “very” important (45%).
I tend to think that it is those among us on the street that can do the most to benefit our community. They have the hunger for change that the establishment just cannot muster. If you follow the immigrant movement at the street level, you would know that there is one young immigrant that has made her mark in the movement: Erika Andiola.
Erika will spend her holiday season fighting President Barack Obama and the ICE division of the Department of Homeland Security as they focus their time, energy and money on deporting Erika’s mom, Maria Arreola, 180 miles south of Phoenix back to Mexico. Having graduated recently from college and obtaining DACA status, Erika was invited to work in Congress in D.C. for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., but upon the notice of her mother’s deportation order, Erika has left her post in Congress to focus and fight for her mother’s existence in the United States.
Through DRM and a new initiative launched last week branded as #KEEPUSTOGETHER on Twitter and www.keepustogether.org on the web, Erika will prove herself once again as a tireless leader in our community. It may be complicated to get the attention of 71% of the 55 million Latinos in the USA, but my hope is to at least get 71% of Orange County to acknowledge this young woman and her work as a leader in our community.
I gladly offer her the seventh seat on the ironically labeled bus: America the Marvelous.
Sergio C. Muñoz is a Santa Ana-based artist and a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board. In 2014, he will be producing Radio Hermandad with Nativo López in Santa Ana. Follow him on Twitter: @Intelatin.