Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Rodrigo and Revisionism: Relearning the Lessons of History

Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Rodrigo and Revisionism: Relearning the Lessons of History

Article excerpt

RODRIGO AND REVISIONISM: RELEARNING THE LESSONS OF HISTORY RACISM ON TRIAL: THE CHICANO FIGHT FOR JUSTICE by Ian F. Haney Lopez, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England 2003).


It was late one wintry afternoon, and I was desultorily wading through an imposing sheaf of papers full of charts, tables, and financial projections from a folder labeled "TIAA-CREF, Options for Retirees"1 that the self-assured young benefits representative had given me minutes earlier, when a flash of color and a loud twanging sound caused me to look up at my office doorway.

"Professor! It's me, Rodrigo."2 My lanky young friend hoisted a guitar case that he had just put down and stepped inside my office. "Do you have a minute?" Then, gesturing toward the papers I had been turning: "Oh, no. I hope you're not thinking about retiring again."

"Have a seat," I said, motioning toward my office couch. "Just keeping my options open. Teresa and I think about Florida or California sometimes-especially this time of year, when it's cold and the days are so short. Don't worry. You'll be the first to know if we decide to call it quits."3

Rodrigo looked stricken. "I can't see you spending your days watching birds or playing golf." Motioning toward the pile of blue books stacked on one corner of my desk and a half-finished manuscript on another, he said, "You're too productive. Besides, you're my mentor, sounding board, and best friend."

"Don't worry," I repeated. "We won't do anything impulsive. By the way, that's a great-looking shirt. And I didn't know you played the guitar."

"Oh, this," Rodrigo said, holding out the front of his shirt, a maze of brightly embroidered geometric designs. "Giannina and I picked it up on our trip to Mexico. We'll get you one next time if you like it. And, yes, I'm learning to play. My specialty is Mexican music, especially the maria-chi kind. I sing, too."

"You are a man of many talents. I gather you're emphasizing your Latino roots these days?"

When my visitor nodded, a little warily, I continued: "I know your family immigrated to the States through the Caribbean and that your father, Lorenzo, spoke perfect Spanish. But as long as I've known you, you've identified with your black roots, no?"

"It's a complicated story," Rodrigo began. "My mother was Italian, as you know. So, I've always felt that tie to my Latin side. And then there's all those years Dad's family spent in the Dominican Republic when he was growing up. He and Mom spoke Spanish at home sometimes, when they didn't want me to know what was going on. And this year, the Latino student organization asked me to be their faculty sponsor, probably because we don't have anybody who is more like them. I don't know. I've just been feeling more Latino these days. Maybe it's the cold weather, which makes me long for Mexico."

"Nothing wrong with that," I said. "I love the country myself. And more and more of us are discovering we're the product of racial mixture. Look at the recent flap about Strom Thurmond's daughter.4 Even I probably have a white or Indian forebear somewhere. And, speaking of identity, wasn't it Ian Haney Lopez who observed that race is largely a matter of choice?5 Someone like you, with your indeterminate looks, could be practically anything you decided to be."

"I'm relieved that you aren't upset or think me disloyal."

"Not at all. Unless you disavowed your blackness entirely, which I'm sure you have no intention of doing. Now that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group, they need all the help they can get. I was reading some figures the other day about their school dropout rate, family income, and lack of access to health care. In some ways, they're even worse off than blacks."6 Then, after a pause, I added: "But to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"Oh-I'm representing our school at an LSAC recruitment fair this weekend. …

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