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What a Romney "1950s" Presidency Would Mean for Latinos

What would a conservative 1950s social agenda look like for Latinos today? We should remember what life was like for most minority groups during this time in history.
 
 
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Republican Todd Akin's comment about women's supposed ability to magically shutdown their vaginas during "legitimate" rapes is only the most recent of a series of outrageous statements made by conservatives about sexual violence against women. Perhaps even worse than the scientifically unsubstantiated claims made by Akin and other members of the GOP are those made by Republicans who actually seem to celebrate rape with statements like, "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it."

Given the GOP's raging "War on Women," it is not surprising that critics have argued that a President Mitt Romney would take us "back to the 1950s" on issues related to gender. But what would a conservative 1950s social agenda look like for Latinos today? Do the Republican Party's policy positions from over half a century ago have anything to do with their contemporary legislative goals? Before we attempt to answer these questions, we should remember what life was like for most minority groups during this time in history.

The 1950s are often remembered as "Happy Days" for the country because the economy and family values were supposedly at their peaks. Pop worked hard and was able to provide a home, car, and annual family vacation--all on one income (!)--while Mom kept house by cooking, cleaning and making sure that Wally and little Susie were raised properly. This is the era that many conservatives are constantly saying they want to "take the country back to." This is also a time that most minority groups recall with horror.

During the 1950s, African Americans endured life under racist Jim Crow laws and were used like laboratory rats in government-run medical studies, such as the notorious "Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment." Lesbians and gays were not allowed to immigrate to the U.S. because they were seen as having a mental illness that some "scientists" believed could be cured through electroshocks, euphemistically called "conversion therapy."

Latinos fared no better during these "Happy Days." For instance, as a result of the racist stereotype of their hyper-fertility, throughout this period many Latinas were forcibly sterilized like animals to prevent their "overpopulation." Around this same time--while fighting and giving their lives for freedom and democracy abroad--Latino war veterans were often denied the right to burial in their hometown cemeteries because of their race. During this era, Latinos lived under "Juan Crow" poll taxes and segregated schools and swimming pools; it was not uncommon to see signs in front of restaurants and public areas reading: "No Dogs, Negros, or Mexicans" allowed.

Only a few years prior to the dawning of the 1950s, people of Mexican descent werelynched at even higher rates than African Americans in some parts of the country. The lynch mobs were composed of "law enforcement" agents known as the Texas Rangers. Ironically, we now commemorate this group of vigilantes by naming a professional baseball team in their honor. During the 1950s Mexican indentured servitude existed in the form of the notorious Bracero Program, whichfumigated these "guest" workers like livestock before they were allowed to enter the country, only to later exploit their labor in order to keep American bellies full. This was also the period when the infamous "Operation Wetback" terrorized Mexican-American barrios through immigration raids that resulted in the deportation of nearly one million foreign and U.S.-born Latinos who "looked illegal."

These injustices were unquestionably shameful episodes in American history, but what do they have to do with Latinos and the Republican Party today? Unfortunately, too much. The same racism that justified the actions described above now guides the GOP's contemporary legislative goals at the local and national levels.

Previously, the stereotype of Latina hyper-fertility was seen as warranting their forced sterilization; today, many Republicans invoke this racist logic to call for an end to birth right citizenshipbecause of alleged Latino "anchor babies." The same bigotry that justified deporting anyone "who looked illegal" during Operation Wetback provides the foundation of Arizona's SB1070 "papers please" law. And the dehumanization that has historically motivated the lynching of people of color is today driving a rapid rise in violent hate crimes against Latinos.

If we want to know what life would be like for Latinos if Romney wins the Presidency, we need only to look at how Latinos are treated in places like Alabama and Arizona. If elected, Romney has declared his intention to work with Kris Kobash, the architect of both of these states' draconian anti-immigrant laws, and the man behind Romney's "self-deportation" proposal. Despite Kobash having ties to anti-Latino hate groups, after receiving his endorsement, Romney stated that he was "proud" to "earn Kris' support" and that the country needed "more conservative leaders" like him. Not surprisingly, just this week the GOP announced that local and statewide anti-immigrant laws around the country should be "encouraged, not attacked," and that federal funding should be withheld from "any universities that provide in-state tuition" for taxpaying undocumented students.

Thus, while it is often said that history repeats itself, with regards to the GOP's legislative agenda, it seems more apt to say that little has changed in the last half century. Just as Representative Akin's crazy comments are representative of the Republican Party's official 2012 legislative platform--which aims to deny women the right to choose what to do with their bodies even in cases of rape or incest--it is more important than ever for Latinos and other minority groups to remember that a Romney-Ryan White House would take us back to the 1950s on gender as well as a host of other issues that have serious consequences in our daily lives.

Dr. Chris Zepeda-Millán is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University. His research focuses on Race and Ethnic Politics, Immigration, and Social Movements.