I didn't really understand how an Arab-American might feel being racially profiled as a terrorist -- until I woke up one recent morning and saw on television one of my own kind accused of the same crime.
Puerto Ricans rarely figure in mainstream news. So I was shocked to see a face staring back at me that could have belonged to my cousin. It was
Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al Muhajir, accused of plotting a radioactive "dirty bomb" attack on the United States.
I don't mind so much being grouped with people who are stereotyped as lazy, greasy, welfare-hogging, gang-banging, smelly codfish-eating, alcoholic, drug addicted, mocho (broken) Spanish-speakers. Such labels are ultimately harmless sticks and stones that can't break strong Taino-bred bones (Tainos were the original, indigenous Puerto Ricans).
But "terrorist" would be a different matter.
So I surfed the Web and found that Puerto Rico is one of the leading sources of domestic terrorism in the United States. Most resources mentioned Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), a group responsible for more than 130 bombings in New York, Chicago, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., between 1974 and 1983, including one at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street in New York City in 1982. In all those incidents, six people were killed, more than 70 were wounded. Other Puerto Rican terrorist groups have damaged property and attacked FBI offices in San Juan, sites said.
In one of the most notorious acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, four armed, pro-independence Puerto Ricans opened fire on the House of Representatives on March 1, 1954. Four years earlier, pro-independence terrorists attempted to kill President Truman at Blair House.
If President Bush happens to crack open his high school history book, he may start adding Puerto Ricans to his list of likely terrorists.
"There's ... a full-scale manhunt on," he told reporters at the White House. "And there are people that still want to harm America... As we run down these killers or would-be killers we'll let you know."
So far, Bush's coalition has collected 2,401 "would-be killers," mostly people who are Arab or Moslem.
I called home to find out if my parents and family members were nervous about showing their brown faces in public. If anyone wearing a head-wrap is automatically identified by the general American public as a potential terrorist, surely my cousins -- who drive low-riders with miniature
Puerto Rican flags hanging from the rear view window -- may be targeted as well.
My mother told me I was over-reacting, that I shouldn't worry because I am not easily identifiable as Puerto Rican.
Besides, she added, this guy has been a lowlife criminal since he was a kid. Surely the actions of one person can't color a group of people.
She may be right, but I can't help but think of a few bad apples at the 2000 Puerto Rican Day Parade who sexually assaulted women, thus tainting the celebratory nature of the event. I think of actresses like Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, who insist on portraying hotheaded and oversexed Latinas in mainstream movies. For 14 years, the popular television show COPS has beamed images of blacks and Latinos committing crimes for all the American public to see.
It's the power of media to shape public opinion that worries me. Traditionally, when members of a few minorities become famous or notorious, the media automatically assumes they represent the whole.
I think Padilla's alleged, extreme actions, combined with a U.S. government that can justify racial profiling in a post 9-11 reality, could potentially affect Puerto Rico's Commonwealth status with the United States. The free flow of thousands of Puerto Ricans between San Juan and New York every day may become a luxury of the past, considering laws like the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. This recently passed law restricts visas to non-immigrants "who are from countries that are state sponsors of international terrorism, which include Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan."
No one can say Puerto Rico itself sponsored terrorism. But since Puerto Rico has this terrorist history and is outside the continental United States, it would be easy to impose restrictions on its inhabitants.
The government has already locked Padilla in a Navy brig in South Carolina, has not charged him with any crime and has denied him the right to speak with his attorney. He's being treated very differently from Taliban sympathizer John Walker Lindh, an affluent white boy from Marin, who has several lawyers all claiming that a fair trial anywhere in the United States is not possible.
Only these days in the aftermath of Padilla's arrest will reveal whether the Puerto Rican stereotype has graduated from the lowest class of Latinos to the highest threats of "would-be killers." I am holding my breath.
Melanie Feliciano, 26, (email@example.com) is associate editor and webmaster for Youth Outlook (YO!), a magazine by and about Bay Area youth published by Pacific News Service.
You are an all-American boy. You are shy. You are horny. You want to meet 30 girls in 30 days, so when you see this title on the front of MH18, the magazine Men's Health created last year for teenaged guys, you pick it up.
Inside you read an innovative how-to article written by both men and women that encourages teenaged boys to get over their unmanly insecurities and chat up more girls than your average rock star can handle in one show. The tag-line of the article reads: The ultimate pick-up plan for any guy. Talk to any girl and score more dates than you deserve.
But how does a boy go about finding this many girls in a mere 30 days? Perhaps it's just a figurative goal, like a Christian striving to be more like Jesus. Nevertheless, MH18 caters to readers who will literally follow the informative, step-by-step article, reinforced by the 30-30 Resource Center on the MH18 web site.
-First Impressions: Be yourself (mostly)
-Approaching and Talking
-Compliments (well discuss this in detail below)
-Asking Her Out
-Hygiene (brush your teeth, comb your hair)
-Quick-fixes (suck on a lemon after eating garlic or onions)
This plan acts as if a boy has the freedom to hang out wherever, whenever he wants. It's a plan that would work well for a college guy or a 20-something bar-toad, but for a high school boy? Not very realistic, unless he hits the mall, the movie theater, various street corners, or Six Flags after school. Either way it suggests that guys should start practicing their predatory skills early.
Some boys' most discouraging obstacle will probably be age. School may be their only playing field, thus limiting the number of opponents to high school girls who are rarely nave to boys nasty schemes. They may ban together in sisterhood to foil the efforts of an MH18 disciple.
While the title of the article reeks of machismo, it is merely a sexy segue into an empathetic, user-friendly guide for the average game-less boy (and you can tell they worked to keep it sufficiently inoffensive on the surface, as a way to keep parents and feminists quiet). If he follows the instructions, the article suggests, a boy will exercise his dating chops, and learn how to systematically demystify women. At the same time, he'll build up his confidence, his charm, and eventually squash the jitters and shakes caused by scary girls.
Notice a girl's funky shoes, her hairstyle, her fast track speed at last week's meet, the article tells us, and she'll be carving her phone numberinto your forearm. Even the most socially inept, bumbling idiot can look like he's got game.
Sad, but true. We girls are raised to build our self-esteems around the acceptance of others around us. Attention equals power and when boys figure out that's all we really want, some boys will get what they want, if it's sex or just a date to the latest Mummy flick. But what about boys who actually do want to connect with the cute girl wearing funky shoes in his English class? Lets hope he feels comfortable creating his own game plan and focuses just on her. He may gain some tips from the 30-30 plan along the way, (althought they do bring in expert advice from anthropologists that say things like "Women get intimacy from face-to-face talking, men get intimacy from side-by-side doing. If you do something that involves more face-to-face talking, youre going to get some intimacy out of it.") but it will not be his dating Bible by any means.
As for girls, they should watch out for the boy on the 30-30 prowl. He may be more interested in the date than in those funky shoes or her quirky personality. Or that's what this article tells us. There is more emphasis on "scoring" dates than on how to really connect with someone of the opposite sex. It stays true to its basketball analogy: racking up points on the scoreboard is the name of the game.
But this is the summer issue, after all, so maybe it is possible. Tell us what you think about the 30/30 advice and tell us about it on our message boards.