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Vol. 6 No. 39 June 1 - 7, 2001

Little White Man

Hermandad plays race card to dis Davis

by Gustavo Arellano

In addition to Governor Gray Davis' many problems-fumbling energy deregulation, plummeting approval ratings, and the resulting death of his political aspirations-comes a new one: a Santa Ana-based Latino-rights group has taken out an anti-Davis ad that refers to the governor as a "fucking little white man."

Part of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional's radio and TV campaign, the first ad aired May 21 on LA ranchera station KKHJ-AM 930. A fictional man and woman comment on California's Department of Motor Vehicles new tightfisted policy on issuing driver's licenses to immigrants. The man says he knows someone who was put in jail after going to a DMV office; the woman says she knows someone whose license was revoked after 10 years because she did not have legal documents.

The man asks if these problems are a result of Proposition 187 and Davis' gubernatorial predecessor, Pete Wilson.

That's when it's revealed that Davis-not the much-reviled Wilson-is behind the new DMV policy. And at one point, the man wonders what that "pinche güerito" (fucking little white man) has against Mexicans. The woman replies that Davis (a Democrat) and Wilson (a Republican who backed the infamous Prop. 187 and its successor measure, Proposition 209) are the same.

Although the word "pinche" is bleeped out (all we get to hear is "pin"), it is obvious that is the slur. The ad finishes with an announcer reading a toll-free number and urging everyone to join Hermandad to protect themselves against unwarranted arrests and bureaucratic hassles.

But after it had received heavy airplay, the ad was pulled off the air on May 22.

"That particular version of our ad is not in line with the philosophy of Hermandad, and we do not approve of it," Nativo López, Hermandad's often embattled leader, told the OC Weekly. "It distracts from the main message and is racially offensive to Anglo-Americans."

López accused KKHJ of adding the vulgarity to his group's commercial and said he scheduled a meeting with station management to discuss the problem.

That's preposterous, according to Andrew Mars, corporate vice president of LBI, the corporation that owns KKHJ. "We did not add 'pinche,'" Mars maintained. "We added 'pin-beep.' We recorded based on the copy that they sent us. It had 'pinche,' and I made sure it was not said on the air since it is a swear word. Even after the 'pin-beep,' I was not comfortable with the ad, so I had that version pulled off also."

The ad came back on the air on May 23 sans the bleeped-out expletive. But the reference to Davis as a güerito remained.

"If it sounds harsh, it was meant to be," said an unapologetic López. "We feel it is our responsibility to be honest to our constituents."

Although the literal translation of "güerito" seems benign (the root word güero means "blond" or "fair"), its connotation is not: it's the equivalent of calling a black person a "darky." Still, Hermandad had heavier ammunition available: güerito is not nearly as insulting as gabacho, which specifically references the target's race, not just skin color. Gabacho is akin to calling a black person "nigger."

Nevertheless, Hermandad did add insult to injury by using the diminutive of güero, so that Davis is identified not merely by skin color but also by size-he's a little white man.

Controversy and race politics are nothing new to Hermandad, but use of a vulgarity to attack a governor and making references to a politician's race rather than his or her record appears to be a first in Spanish-language media. The growing strength of the Latino electorate in California makes ads like this one potentially damaging to a politician's reputation in the Latino community.

Davis' camp is well aware of this; the governor enjoyed about 80 percent of the Latino vote when he beat Dan Lungren in 1998. And his supporters aren't happy with the commercial.

"The ad is wrong," said Byron Tucker, Davis' deputy press secretary. "It speaks for itself. It's very derogatory and an unnecessary response to a serious matter. We'd have to question the thought process that went into the creation of the ad."

But López has no plans to back down. The ads will soon move from radio to Spanish-language television as Hermandad continues to compare Davis to the Latino bogeyman, Pete Wilson.

"Davis has essentially pursued the same policies that Wilson established with Prop. 187," says López. "He continues to perpetuate the Wilson agenda in various aspects of legislation. From the perspective of the immigrant who is a victim, Davis and Wilson are part and parcel."