The Smithsonian rolls over

May 18, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

AN astonishing scene unfolded early this month at the United States' greatest cultural guardian, the Smithsonian Institution.

The chiefs of the Smithsonian stood silently. They listened while Hispanic activists accused them of "willful neglect" of "Latinos" and grandiosely demanded everything from the establishment of one or more museums about themselves to a special office for (yet again!) "multicultural initiatives."

The articles about the event uniformly described the Smithsonian "keepers" -- men such as Smithsonian Secretary Robert McCormick Adams, as well as others distinguished in their fields -- as looking "glum." Actually, more apropos is the word "dumb." For by their own naive actions they had set themselves up for humiliation.

Consider the sequence of events: Some months ago, the politically correct keepers of the Smithsonian decided that they didn't have enough problems. So they named a 15-member task force to examine their record on including and hiring Hispanic Americans. And they put in charge of the activist task force Raul Yzaguirre, veteran civil rights activist and chairman of an advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza.

Now Mr. Yzaguirre is a well-educated and attractive "Yuphie," or young urban professional Hispanic. As a matter of fact, he is only doing his job. However, his job is not to evaluate Smithsonian exhibits. His job is to do anything he possibly can to win power first for his group and, way down the line, maybe for Hispanic Americans.

There is another catch. Some years ago, I had a pleasant talk with one of the major La Raza activists, a young man named Charles Kamasaki. When I asked him how many members his group had, he answered brightly, "Well, we don't have members." You don't? "No, we are funded by the Ford Foundation."

Thus, at first disbelieving, I came across one of the major vehicles for sociological and political change of our times. American foundations fund almost all "politically correct" groups and their programs; those leaders then become widely recognized as spokesmen for their groups, as here with the Latino population; and eventually, the demands constantly put forward by the self-interested activist leaders reach into the heart of American culture itself.

The whole sorry chain, which on many levels is transforming American society into a politicized culture, has an additional dirty secret that the trusting Smithsonian directors obviously did not know.

Not only are putative spokesmen such as Mr. Yzaguirre completely political, with no right whatsoever to speak on those aspects of Hispanic American culture that should truthfully be included in a great cultural institution like the Smithsonian, but even on political levels, they represent only the tiniest minority of the Latino population.

In poll after poll and in survey after survey, Hispanic American citizens show that organizations such as La Raza push issues (illegal immigration) that they are overwhelmingly against. Indeed, one of the most comprehen sive polls -- the 1993 Latino National Political Survey carried out at the University of Texas at Austin -- found that fully 90 percent of the Hispanic Americans interviewed said that none of the ethnic lobbies or organizations spoke for them. As well, they preferred English to Spanish, wanted to reduce immigration and did not think of themselves as "Hispanic," but rather as American citizens who were moderate to conservative politically.

Ironically, it was advocacy groups such as La Raza that first put the word "Hispanic" on the American social agenda. As a direct result of their lobbying, the 1980 census used "Hispanic" as a division, thus furthering America's breakup into "group rights."

For these groups, the real question is not how much genuine PTC Hispanic American culture should be revered, but how much power they can acquire.

And the directors of a supreme institution such as the Smithsonian actually invited them in! It reminds me of Time magazine essayist Richard Brookhiser's axiom: "Always distrust a saint when his charity generates his paycheck."

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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