In the end, it might have been a tempest in a teacup. Or a tempest in an Easter basket, given the odd timing.
And if it weren’t for my addiction to all things digital, I might have actually missed it. For on Sunday, like many millions of other Americans, I shut down digital for most of the day to go for a walk, smell the Wisteria (quickly, it doesn’t last), and enjoy Easter Sunday. On my walk – through the general environs of Santa Clara, a place that is rich with ecclesiastical history – I saw many families taking part in more religious Easter fare. But even in Catholic Santa Clara, religion is only part of what makes Easter such a great day. More ancient than formal religious tradition, the day is about life, renewal, and new beginnings.
So it was with disappointment, but not surprise, when I checked back online more fully (for I was never really disconnected) and learned about this sad little affair that I am sure someone will soon call Eastergate. During my walk – and during the ramblings of many other U.S. citizens I am sure – a number of conservative commentators – namely, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and Dana Perino (formerly with the Bush White House) – went on social channels to complain about Google’s doodle of the day: Cesar Chavez. The civil rights leader would have been 86 yesterday, and his birthday was being honored in 10 states. But a number of conservatives ranted that Google’s choice was a snub to Easter Sunday and to Christians everywhere.
Since learning about this, I’ve had three questions on my mind, and none of them are resolved.
First, notwithstanding the genuine anger that our conservative pundits have triggered, the obvious role that they played yesterday forces the question if they were politically motivated. Cesar Chavez is, of course, a hero to many people in civil rights and community organizing. And yes, his legacy has contributed to 21st century progressive political organizing (remember, “Yes, we can” came from “Si, se puede”). He is much more than that, of course, but by association he is, in the minds of some conservatives, a symbol of progressive politics. So to the question of whether Beck, Malkin, and Perino were playing politics on Easter Sunday, I will answer, generously, “Yes, probably.”
Second question for me: were our conservative pundits racially, culturally, ethnically motivated? No clear evidence of that, but it does surprise me that Chavez, of all people, would be singled out for this kind of treatment. As far as I know, Google has never done an Easter doodle, so it must have featured other subjects or other people on prior Easter Sundays, right? What makes Chavez different? So to the question of whether conservative agitators were ethnically motivated, I will answer, “Who knows?” But maybe the question is not “What makes Chavez different?” but instead “What makes this Easter so different?” No doubt that it still must rankle conservatives that Obama was able to keep the presidency. And no doubt it bothers some conservatives that Latinos played such a pivotal role in the 2012 election. But is taking aim at a Latino cultural icon a way to move closer to the people who Republican leaders now admit they must begin to start courting?
Which leads to my final question: are conservatives really ready to embrace Latinos? While it would be wrong to tar all conservatives with the same brush – I am sure many conservatives were cringing Sunday night, as they too returned to their keyboards – it is still noteworthy and newsworthy that a meme that can be reasonably perceived as disrespectful to Latinos could be perpetrated by prominent conservatives. And if not disrespectful, ignorant – one commentator referred to Chavez as a “relatively obscure cultural figure.” Wow.
Are conservatives really ready to embrace Latinos? Again, who knows? But clearly some are not, and they have a very loud voice. The Sunday flap was not a great moment for conservatives and Latinos. It should have been a day about renewal and new beginnings. Let’s see what happens the rest of this season.