Celebrity politics: Eva Longoria and immigration

When Arizona adopted SB 1070, a bill that would mandate police investigation of people suspected of being in the country illegally, Eva Longoria announced the bill was unconstitutional.  With MALDEF’s (Mexican American Legal Defense Fund) Executive Director Thomas A. Saenz, she briefed Hollywood professionals on the bill and its implications.

Longoria has a bachelor’s degree (in kinesiology, from Texas A&M Kingsville), but is not generally recognized as a constitutional authority.  She is better known as a television star, but lately, she’s been talking about a lot more.

Longoria is doing the promotion rounds, appearing on television, it seems, constantly, talking about her tv show, her cookbook, her cosmetics line, her divorce–and comprehensive immigration reform.  She describes growing up in a Mexican American family that has been in Texas since before it was an American state and learning the classic immigrant values: hard work and education.

Her politics aren’t really unusual.  She opposed Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and supports the DREAM Act.  She’s also crusaded against Texas Governor Rick Perry’s budget cuts for services to the mentally disabled (including her sister); most recently, she’s announced that she wants to be a voice for abused children in Mexico.  She’s produced Harvest, a documentary that follows the lives of three teenage Mexican migrant workers.

I  meant for this entry to be more about celebrities and politics than about Eva Longoria, but that’s the problem with celebrities and social movements: their stardom can eclipse the cause.  Although Longoria’s politics aren’t that unusual, the attention she is able to get for them is.  The celebrity advantage is overwhelming.

When Thomas Saenz wants to draw attention to the case against Arizona’s new law, its Longoria’s stardom that sets her apart from other committed individuals.  Press conferences draw more press, rallies draw more people (and press), and activists are better positioned to raise money and visibility for their concerns.  And stars can reach other stars–along with their access to media and money.

It’s an old story in America; we’ve discussed the attractions and risks of mobilizing celebrities before here, here, and elsewhere.  Celebrities are ubiquitous in American social movements and party politics, sometimes dipping into electoral politics themselves (e.g., Ronald Reagan, John Hall, Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger).

The celebrity can bring visibility, money, and other resources to a cause.   But celebrities may be poorly informed, inarticulate, or transparently self-interested.  Career worries (read: the risk of alienating audiences) may steer them away from some issues, allies, or tactics.  And the presence of someone known primarily as an actor or athlete can undermine some sense of seriousness.

One obvious risk is ridicule from political opponents.  When President Obama made a public show of returning to the politics of immigration, he did so through a White House meeting.  At Redstate, a conservative blog, see Tabitha Hale’s reaction:

[President Obama has] chosen to prove that he’s serious about reforming immigration by inviting renowned immigration policy experts Eva Longoria, Rosario Dawson and friends to the White House to talk about immigration reform. Yes, that Eva Longoria.

First, how are Hollywood Hispanic celebrities at all a representation of Hispanic Americans? That’s like sending Britney Spears or Paris Hilton out into the world to represent the average American and shape foreign policy around the globe. Not only would it be humiliating, but it would produce no relevant information, since they are in no way representative of well, average Americans.

Second, is our President really this bereft of ideas? He repeatedly punts to celebrities on tough issues. I’m assuming that the strategy is to sway public opinion with star power in the absence of actual policy proposals, ideas, or facts. The reality is that this “strategy” will blow up when it comes time to implement some of these changes and there is no substance. His administration is already facing drastically falling poll numbers regarding Obamacare – it sounds a lot better in theory than in practice.

It seems unlikely that using Desperate Housewives stars and Oprah to help pull the country out of the ditch he likes to remind us we’re in will work much longer. It may be optimistic, but there’s mounting evidence that the American people are starting to see through the smoke and mirrors.

It’s time to get serious, President Obama. Let’s start by asking people who know something about policy what they think.

The vigorously anti-immigrant politician and radio host, Tom Tancredo, has blasted Obama for meeting with prominent Latino celebrities, including Longoria, America Ferrera, Jessica Alba, and Rosario Dawson, but not border state governors like Jan Brewer (Arizona) and Rick Perry (Texas), suggesting that this reflects Obama’s lack of seriousness.

Longoria has also been the target of advocates of comprehensive reform, who argue that Obama is using her as political cover to support his less than forceful efforts at reform.

Eva Longoria insists that she’s been doing politics well before she was famous.  Whether for gravitas or her own edification, she’s made a commitment to knowing the issues she engages.  In 2009 Longoria started a master’s degree program in Chicano Studies and Political Science at Cal State Northridge.  I wonder what she’ll do with it.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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6 Responses to Celebrity politics: Eva Longoria and immigration

  1. April Chavarria says:

    How can I get in contact with Eva Longoria regarding the discrimination suit that Hispanic Farmers have filed against the U.S.D.A.? My family has been a part of this lawsuit for over 12 years now. African Americans and Native Americans had similar suits and they were awarded damages, but the U.S.D.A. will not award damages to Hispanic Farmers. We would like to bring this to her attention and the attention of other Hispanic celebrities so it can get President Obama’s attention.

  2. I’ve got no line into Eva Longoria–or any other famous actors. But she sits on the Board of MALDEF, which would certainly be interested in the lawsuit. Good luck.

  3. waun says:

    I work on the farm from ten year of age so did my sister and all my other brothers. We would get up with the sun and work from 5 or 6 am till the sun went down 8,9,&10 PM. “For the lowest wages on earth” When I was working there was no minimum wage for farm workers. Migrants were professional back than. Now look at them.
    Work is hard. ? I don’t get it. If you come here Illegally you should lose the right to ever come here again. Fix the system so the boarders can be open free to come and go. Right now I guess you don’t understand that Americans would spend 2 years in prison, first offense if caught illegally. Stop the insanity!

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  6. Nana says:

    My husband and I are now retired so we have more years of perspective than some people do. He worked on the farm from dawn till dusk in the summer and received no money. It was his family’s 240 acres and the whole family worked as soon as they were big enough, just to keep food on the table. He worked with a team of horses – not an easy life. He did have his own cow and he kept the money from the milk he sold. He milked his cow (and others) at dawn, did assigned chores, went to school on the bus, came home (no after school down time or sports) and did evening chores and milked the cows again. 365 day a year. No vacation on a farm.
    I worked in our family restaurant washing dishes when I was 10 years old. My father paid me minimum wage (in the 50’s) and that money was mine but I received no allowance. If I wanted to buy something I worked for it.
    We have two adult children and they worked delivering news papers when they were 10 years old. They got up before dawn to wrap and stuff papers in the carrier’s bag and walked around to put papers on porches 365 days a year, sometimes in a blizzard. Then did it again in the evening until the Post went to a morning paper. If the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News could get the papers to our door the papers got delivered. If they wanted shoes that were more than I was willing to pay or extra clothes they paid for them. They paid for their own entertainment.
    I am not advocating any child being abused or not cared for, but I can say our work did us no harm and we didn’t have time to get bored or into trouble.

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