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Book Review

Vincent Bosquez

Book Review: His Panic by Geraldo Rivera:
Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.
Celebra Hardcover


One of the major points of contention being debated during this presidential primary season is illegal immigration and its perceived threat to national security. Perhaps even more important to some is its effect on our nation's identity.

What makes the issue extremely volatile is the United States' rapidly changing population, with Latinos, at 45 million strong, now the country's largest minority. This is up from 4 million in 1950, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, and includes the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who are the focus of this cultural debate.

In "HIS PANIC: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S.," Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist Geraldo Rivera explores this country's rapid Hispanic growth and tries to unravel an issue caught in a quagmire of confusion and prejudice.

The book's overarching theme is Rivera's personal conviction that the anti-immigration propaganda campaign is based on lies and distortion, false statistics and race-baiting. With chapter titles like "Importing Terrorism," "Immigrants and Crime" and "Anchor Babies," Rivera brings to the national discussion his trademark bluntness and in-your-face prose that coerces you to read more, much like rubberneckers who feel compelled to view the scene of an accident as they drive by it.

According to Rivera, only Mexico and Colombia have a larger Hispanic population than the United States, with 15 states each having at least half a million Hispanic residents. While "Smith" still ranks as the most common surname in the U.S., two Hispanic surnames Garcia and Rodriguez are among the country's top 10 last names. "Martinez" was narrowly edged out for 10th place by "Wilson."

To counterbalance the argument that the United States needs to adopt an "English only" philosophy, Rivera notes that statistically, there has been a 25 percent increase in English-speaking ability between Mexican immigrants and their American-born children. In other words, children of Spanish-speaking immigrants are learning English faster than in previous generations. One wonders if this would even be an issue if the language were French or Latin.

Rivera explains that the downside of the burgeoning Latino population is that Hispanics here illegally are roughly equal to the entire population of New York City and Los Angeles, making any discussion of a forced mass deportation not only frightening but absurd.

"In Los Angeles, whites are already the minority, representing just 30 percent of the population, compared to 48 percent Hispanic," Rivera writes. "The 'Browning of America' process is now inevitable, absent either another white baby boom (or) a gigantic influx of whites from abroad each of which is historically unlikely."

Before you open the book, put aside the Rivera caricature that he himself is responsible for the Rivera who popularized trash TV; the ill-fated live coverage of unlocking Al Capone's vault; and the infamous "map in the sand" military report from Iraq. You need to circumvent that Rivera to give this serious work on immigration the full attention it deserves.

"HIS PANIC" is a frank dialogue with the United States by one of the country's most recognizable Hispanics. It is an honorable reminder of the altruistic journalist Rivera started out to be when he exposed the deplorable conditions at the Willowbrook State School for the mentally ill: compassionate and unwavering in his pursuit of justice for a segment of society yearning to be understood.


Vincent Bosquez is president of the Society of Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio, and director of public relations at Palo Alto College


Copyright 2006 design and content by John S. Christie and Jose B. Gonzalez
Copyright 2006 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright 2006 Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, John S. Christie


Last Updated: July 06, 2009