The Race for the Mall
April, 2012

Did I read that headline right last month? Northridge Mall is “aiming” to “capture” Latinos? Oh my, if ever there was a warning for me and my compadres to stay away from the mall, that was it. This is outrageous. And just what are they going to do when they capture said persons of various South of the Border persuasions?

Before I continue, I must admit the need for extraordinary journalist sensitivity on this subject – fortunately, ethnic sensitivity is my specialty. That being said, just last week the PEW Research Center reported that 3 out of 4 South of the Borderers prefer not to be called “Latinos” or “Hispanics,” the preferred labels of our own Federales. This is awful. Only a misguided 21% minority want to be called “American,” which I callously prefer. Half of the otherwise persons of Central and South American descent prefer to be called by their country name. So it’s okay to call a person a Mexican, but not Hispanic, if they have Mexican lineage, even if they’re U.S. citizens. Makes sense. Same goes for Guatemalans, Columbians, Chileans, etc. Where does that leave European Spaniards (my late aunt curiously referred to herself as “Castilian”)? All this sensitivity is making your humble observer a little loco.

What about Brazilians? With the Olympics coming to Rio in 2016, we’d better get that one straight. Technically, they’re not Hispanic, since they don’t speak Spanish. Latino might be okay, but then even the Queen’s English has a lot of Latin in it. Does that mean all the persons of European, Asian or African descent, if they speak English, are Latinos as well? This is giving me a headache. And we haven’t even touched on Middle Easterners or Pacific Islanders.

With that conundrum as a backdrop, let us return to the problem at Northridge. OK, they like it when “Latinos” come out and spend the day (the whole day?) and hopefully a lot of money, relative incomes and exchange rates notwithstanding. Good. But to be comprehensively sensitive, which is my nature, I have to wonder what all the white people are going to do now they are, as we Latin speakers say, personas non grata? Some of my best friends are white, nice folks. But will the Crossroads in Carmel or the Del Monte Center in Monterey announce they’re aiming to capture white people? Where will they put them? Maybe they’ll look into a catch and release program. How about if a person is, you know, half and half? Do they get a special pass? Not to mention the aforementioned persons of other continents of origin. This kind of complication makes me thankful for the sage wisdom of mall marketing people and courageous politicians. Those are the ones who selflessly spend their time segregating us so we all know our places.

I don’t even want to think about the implications this has for the food court. Are Panda Express, the pizza stand and the Korean BBQ place going to be replaced by more ethnically sensitive grub? Will they all be delegitimized or should the preferred Latino customer base be sensitivity-trained to develop more eclectic palettes? Thank goodness for Taco Bell.

Meantime, the Eastside, truly Little Mexico, is getting worried. It always happens this way. The mall announces that it’s got piñatas, Catholic celebrations and mariachis, and there goes the neighborhood. Now everyone, including the cops, are heading to the North side, and East Alisal is stuck with the more authentic, albeit officially unregulated, food carts, freelance drug businesses and hubcap shops.

This is all very taxing, but we have enough of those to worry about this weekend. Look, if we run into each other in the ethnic food section of the supermarket, or can evade capture at Northridge, forgive me if I neglect your place on the family tree and just call you by name. Then we’ll go grab some falafel.