It seems lately that Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West can’t catch a break. In addition to absenteeism, she’s been taking some fire from challenger Sylvia Ortiz-Velez over her role in the county’s 2011 redistricting process. Ortiz-Velez is claiming that Supervisor West didn’t support the Hispanic community getting a second majority district – also called a majority VAP district.

The controversy is spilling into the public largely because of a 2011 email between Supervisor West and Harold Mester, the County Board’s public information manager, indicating that West thought it was unnecessary for Hispanic voters to get more representation.

Before we get to that, let’s bring you all up to speed. Every 10 years, local governments redraw district lines based upon changes in population determined by the U.S. census. If, for example, the census shows there was an uptick in Hispanic population for Milwaukee County, county supervisors would ordinarily redraw districts to reflect that growth. But that didn’t happen.

In 2011, the Milwaukee County Board approved of a preliminary redistricting map that would have cut 8% of voting-age Hispanics out of Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic’s (4th) district and shifted them to Supervisor West’s (12th) district. Both Dimitrijevic and West voted in support of this plan.

The reason this is so controversial is because Supervisor West’s district, at the time, had a Hispanic majority voting-age population (VAP) of 66%. The vote to add another 8% of Hispanic voters to her district by cutting them out of Dimitrijevic’s district would essentially ignored their population growth and the increased political influence that is supposed to come with it. This is literally the reason we have redistricting.

However, it appears that Supervisor West didn’t get the memo. In a 2011 email between her and Harold Mestor, she questions whether the Hispanic community needed “more representation,” saying:

Hey Harold, I know we are giving this guy way too much time but his comments suggest that Latino’s need ‘more representation’? Having a 2nd Hispanic majority district does not ensure a Latino will be elected. Marina [Dimitrijevic] has never had a Latino opponent and she has the ‘Hispanic Influence District” . . . And just to drive the point home both the ‘Hispanic Majority’ and ‘Hispanic Influence’ districts are both represented on the Common Council by Anglos who have both run and won against Latinos . . . so does it seem like it matters? I am afraid I don’t understand his point and would kind of like him to clarify.”

Since the person she’s referring to in the above email is me, I’ll take the opportunity to “clarify” the point for her. The purpose of a second majority Hispanic VAP district isn’t to get another Hispanic elected to office – although that would be nice. The purpose is to ensure that the Hispanic community literally has “more seats” at the County Board table when it comes time to voting on county policy.

If 3 of the 18 supervisors on the county board represent the farming community, the concerns of those farmers will not get equal consideration as the concerns of the urban voters who control 85% of the county board. More seats equal more political power. And when the Hispanic population in Milwaukee County increases by 45,000 in the span of ten years and they don’t get another seat at the table, someone isn’t doing their job.

There is a rather long history in the United States of minority communities being disenfranchised by a process called “packing.” When minority communities grow in population, their political influence in government should also grow. But when they’re packed into a single district that is already a 66% Hispanic voting-age voting district, their political power becomes redundant and they lose say over how their government operates.

In 2011, writing for El Conquistador, I asked Supervisor West why the African-American community had six times the representation as the Hispanic community while having only twice the population. I asked why she didn’t fix this inequality in representation when she had the chance during the redistricting process. She answered that it was “impossible to draw a second Latino-majority district, because the rest of the Latino population is so widely scattered across the county.” She also added that the only way to add another Hispanic majority VAP district was to increase the size of the County Board.

Both statements turned out to be false.

Using the same county redistricting software, Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo (who is now a state legislator) demonstrated that a second majority Hispanic VAP district of 57% could have been created. When questioned about Sanfelippo’s map, West dismissed it saying that the County Board had already voted on their plan. When we had asked if any changes could still be made before the board’s plan was finalized, West told us,

“I am checking into the process of verifying this information however my understanding is that Milwaukee County's Redistricting plan has been submitted and is non-negotiable . . . So to clarify, I am not aware of the ability of the board to vote for a 2nd time on another redistricting plan if this information is incorrect which I will verify tomorrow, I will review with an open mind all other plans being offered.” [emphasis mine]

This statement also turned out to be false.

The Board’s plan was not “non-negotiable” as West had stated. This much was proved false when Supervisors West and Dimitrijevic had co-authored an amendment to change the Board’s redistricting plan, giving the Hispanic community its second VAP district of 51%.

Challenger Sylvia Ortiz-Velez raises a valid point about Supervisor West not supporting a second majority Hispanic district. Her email to Harold Mester is an indication that either she didn’t understand how redistricting was supposed to work, or that she did, but chose to screw the Hispanic community in Milwaukee County. Neither option bodes well for Supervisor West.

Ultimately, Supervisors Dimitrijevic and West did the right thing when they had coauthored an amendment to remedy their mistake and provide Hispanic voters with a second majority VAP district; but this was only after two months of relentless pressure by El Conquistador and organizations like Hispanics for Leadership, the NAACP, and the ICC.

If we’re really looking to thank a county supervisor for fighting to ensure that Hispanics were properly represented, we shouldn’t be thanking State Representative Joe Sanfelippo. He did most of the legwork showing that a second VAP district could be created and got zero credit. Perhaps Supervisor West and Dimitrijevic should consider that the next time they take credit for the Hispanic community getting its second Hispanic district.

Hispanic Issues - Wisconsin Latino News

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Congressman Steve King (R-IA) always seems to be the headline of the story. Last week, King touched off a firestorm over a tweet supporting Dutch politician Geert Wilders, saying, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies.”

The plain reading of King’s tweet is truly awful, but it won him the praises of former KKK wizard David Duke and “Alt-Right” founder Richard Spencer were very encouraged by King’s progress as a nationalist. Spencer took to Twitter saying,

“Steve King is getting at a root [of] nationalism, a nationalism in the real sense of the word, and I’m very proud of him for doing that. One thing I would tell Steve King, just don’t cuck. What you said is true. You spoke, or tweeted, from the heart. Don’t apologize.“

Though King certainly didn’t apologize, he did “cuck” (to use Spencer’s term for liberal appeasement). He told the Washington Times that his tweet wasn’t about race, but cultural assimilation.

“Any culture that doesn’t care enough about itself to reproduce itself shall become extinct,” King said. Today’s immigrants, he explained, no longer assimilate like they used to because about 25 years ago we began to “worship at the altar of multiculturalism,” which he says encourages our differences, not national unity.

On “New Day” with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, King was asked whether he saw Muslim Americans, Italian-Americans and German-Americans as equals. They were equal in the eyes of God and the law, King answered, but not equal in their productive capacities. "Certain groups of people will do more from a productive side than other groups of people will. That’s just a statistical fact,” King concluded.

Though King didn’t specify which ethnic groups were superior in their productive capacities, he has answered this question before. In a panel discussion on MSNBC, the first night of the Republican Convention, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce criticized Republicans for a convention that seemed to be mostly “old, loud, and unhappy white people.” King bristled at the accusation.

"This old ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie.” King retorted. “I mean, I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

In short, instead of defending the Republican Party from a liberal criticism, King chose to defend the white race.

While King’s view of the ethnic pecking order seems a bit out of time, it certainly wasn’t at the turn of the 20th century. Congressman Albert Johnson, who authored the infamous Immigration Act of 1924, drafted his bill with the central aim of preserving “racial homogeneity” in the United States. Thusly, the bill banned Asian and Arab immigration; and, in an effort to decrease the admission of Jews fleeing persecution, the bill severely restricted immigration from South-Eastern Europe.

In support of his bill, Johnson claimed,

“Our capacity to maintain our cherished institutions stands diluted by a stream of alien blood with all of its inherited misconceptions respecting the relationships of the governing power to the governed.”

His coauthor in the Senate, Senator David Reed, was more candid. He argued that they needed the bill to become law to “maintain the racial preponderance of the basic strain of our people and thereby stabilize the ethnic composition of the population.”

King’s theory of superior ethnic productivity isn’t dissimilar to the worldview of Johnson and Reed. In fact, ethnic productivity forms the ideological foundation of the Johnson/Reed immigration policy of 1924.

They wanted legislation that invited the most “assimilable” or productive immigrants in the world, so they wrote a bill would let in the same percentage of nationalities already present in the United States based on the 1890 U.S. Census. They argued, just as King does now, that some groups are more assimilable or contribute more to our civilization. For this reason, their bill limited immigration to “white inhabitants.”

There will always be a debate on whether immigrants assimilate appropriately. Sociologists try to define generational assimilation with metrics like “changes in socio-economic status,” “language acquisition,” and “intermarrying rates,” but the truest test of assimilation is an American history book. It may not be the answer people are looking for, but it’s tried and true.

Patterns of assimilation generally look like this: the first generation struggles with the challenges of a new culture. The second generation adapts to the new culture while retaining many of their heritage. And the third generation forgets much of the first generation’s heritage while assimilating fully into the dominant culture.

In the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin was distressed by the apparent failure of Germans to assimilate. He wrote in his journal, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.“

It was a bold prediction for sure (harsh language and all), but it was disproven by the time Franklin’s children had children. Similar charges were made against the Irish.

In 1847, a massive wave of Irish immigrants, fleeing a potato famine, flooded Boston, increasing its total population by 30 percent in one year. The Irish were easily the poorest, weakest, sickliest, and most wretched immigrants to hit the shores of the United States. Their predicament was so bad that the newspaper accounts, which had graphically chronicled their plight, referred to them as “creatures.” Yet, as time has shown us, they Irish remain one of the greatest examples of successful assimilation in American history.

We should keep our history close. When we hear the statements of elected leaders that openly theorize about ethnic superiority, or suggest that immigrant babies threaten the future of our civilization, we should hold them to account for what they practice – which is bigotry.

It was someone else’s babies that formed our American colonies, fought foreign powers for our independence, and forged a Constitution like no other. The United States is the greatest nation on earth not in spite of our immigration, but because of it. As the saying goes, history may not repeat, but it certainly rhymes; and it’s up to us to learn what it means.

Hispanic Issues - National Latino News

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