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“You should be ashamed for all of the corruption you stand for. These people are traitors.”
“You and those like you have done a great disservice to this country – you’re all disastrous and dangerous.”
“Stop the lies and admit who you really are because you are now exposed.”
These aren’t tirades launched by President-elect Donald Trump at Hillary Clinton or the media. These had been directed by local conservatives via email towards the man sitting in my living room watching the election returns, Lionel Sosa.
Lionel had sinned against conservative dogma by publishing a series of commentaries in the San Antonio Express-News critical of Donald Trump and his demonization of Latinos.
In The Land of ‘the Way Things Were’ Doesn’t Really Exist, Lionel described Trump and his supporters as acting out of feelings rather than facts with the overriding feeling being fear, primarily fear of Latinos.
In his commentary Farewell, My Grand Old Party, Lionel channeled Ronald Reagan’s “I didn’t leave my party, my party left me;” the difference being that Reagan had addressed Democrats whereas Lionel was referring to the Republican Party platform. This commentary made national news, including feature articles in the Washington Post and NBC News, which labeled Lionel as a “GOP Giant.”
But, it was Lionel’s final, pre-election commentary that made local conservatives go from dismissive to mad-dog rabid, I Did What I Never Thought I’d Do. Lionel wrote that he not only voted for Hillary Clinton but that he believed our nation could survive and possibly even thrive in spite of a Clinton presidency.
Conservatives responded not with disagreement, discussion, and debate, but with vindictive wrath. One of them fired off an email on Nov. 7, the day before the election, that was further circulated among the party faithful. “These guys such as Sosa, the Bushes and many others, we now know are part of an establishment that have turned not only against our party, but the American people,” the email stated. Another responded in the email chain, “We now know what we are up against, Good vs. Evil.”
Wow. Lionel Sosa. George W. Bush. Laura Bush. George H.W. Bush. Barbara Bush. Jeb Bush. Turning against the American people? Evil?
How did it come to this?
Until recently, Lionel was widely respected in the Republican Party, having handled Latino marketing and outreach for five successful Republican presidential campaigns, as well as successful senatorial and gubernatorial elections. In 2005, Time Magazine designated Lionel as one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in our nation – as a Republican. Seventeen years ago, the online magazine, Salon, touted Lionel as the architect of a future where Republicans would dominate the Sunbelt as it had come to dominate politics in the South.
Why then would Lionel Sosa elect to make such a public, noisy departure from the Republican Party?
The key to understanding Lionel’s decision can be found in the scholarship of the late Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, a priest, pastor, scholar, historian, and theologian. Fr. Elizondo was a profound influence in Lionel’s life – and mine.
In one of his books, published in 2000, The Future Is Mestizo, Fr. Elizondo laid out the history of the first American mestizaje, that being the encounter between the races and cultures of Iberian Spain and Mesoamerica, starting in the late 1400s and continuing today: 500 years of mutual enculturation and transformation that birthed the peoples and cultures of Mexico and Central and South America.
Fr. Elizondo proposed that a second mestizaje, equally powerful, is unfolding in our lifetimes.
“Today, the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico form the cradle of a new humanity,” he wrote. “A new people is emerging. No one is planning it, but it is happening. In the Southwest of the United States, the North of planet earth is meeting the South, and the result transcends old barriers by fusing North and South into a new synthesis.”
I know that Lionel sees himself in exactly that way; as an offspring of cultural synthesis of the best qualities – along with a few of the faults – of this new mestizaje of Mexican and North American cultures.
This is evident in Lionel’s development and production of the PBS/KLRN video series Children of the Revolution, which chronicled the mass migration from Mexico into Texas a century ago as people fled the Mexican Revolution, with its resultant transformation of Texas, especially San Antonio. The radical change that took place in Texas 100 years ago continues through the newest waves of immigration and the impacts will be no less profound.
Fr. Elizondo saw that San Antonio is located at ground zero for this newest mestizaje now encompassing all of us, with San Antonio already becoming a shining example of how the mutual transformation of two cultures can unfold in the best of ways, along with some tough challenges, too. Lionel believes in, and fully lives, this reality.
It was this, Lionel’s public proclamation that a better, stronger, richer, more humane society was arising in our midst from the wellspring of immigration that caused his fall from grace in conservative circles.
As his friend, I told him that he should have seen the backlash coming.
Lionel got an unmistakable, harsh warning well over a year ago when he was stopped in mid-speech at a Rotary Club meeting in the Dominion Country Club when he was attempting to explain the positive aspects of Latino immigration. They actually told him to stop talking and sit down even though he was the guest speaker.
A recent email sent to local Republican leadership stated, “The fact we had this SOSA [sic] person speak at our (Republican) club several times, spewing his dishonesty, is regretful.”
The message from conservatives to Lionel was crystal clear. Come speak, but speak only our truth. Write, but write only our truth. Lionel chose to disagree.
Lionel saw that for conservatives, making America great again required a fully-assimilated, mono-culture – a one-way road that immigrants must walk. Therefore, Latinos must accept, to paraphrase George Wallace, full assimilation now; full assimilation tomorrow; full assimilation forever.
The conservative, Trump-world response to Lionel’s book, The Americano Dream became: dream all you want, just make sure you dream in English; dream only as an American (with no “o”); act as Anglo as much as you possibly can until you actually morph into one.
This is precisely what brought Lionel Sosa, staunch Latino Republican, to his crisis of conscience and his personal decision to break with the Republican Party in 2016. This is where he drew his line in the sand. It is where he chose to stand and to openly fight back against the further denigration of Latinos by conservatives and their standard-bearer, Donald Trump.
Lionel lost this battle on election night – for now. Instead of being at the center of election night Republican victory parties, awaiting his invitations to inaugural galas and White House dinners as in past years, he chose to sit on my couch until 1 a.m. – drinking my tequila, by the way – while his lovely and equally talented spouse, Kathy, had fallen asleep next to him.
I understand why Lionel can never be a Trump supporter nor support the present-day conservative mindset. That’s because this gentleman whom I admire and respect is absolutely incapable of deriding, dismissing, or hating another human being.
So, Lionel. What now?