Lifestyle, isolation figure in driving drunk
When Eliseo Hernandez came to the United States 30 years ago, he thought he drove better after a few beers. Driving drunk had been normal back in Mexico, he said. But Hernandez, 54, learned of its perils firsthand. He quit the practice after falling asleep at the wheel and hitting a tree 18 years ago.
Then, last year, a young Hispanic man who authorities say was drunk nearly killed Hernandez's only son, Diego, in a crash on a rural Johnston County road. Eliseo Hernandez's daughter, who was nine months pregnant, lost her unborn child in the accident.
Hernandez has spent the past year following Diego through four hospitals and 14 brain surgeries. Diego only recently began to smile again and might never walk.
Hernandez said he hopes his painful journey will teach his friends and family a lesson. Car accidents are the top killer of Hispanics in North Carolina, and the disproportionate number of alcohol-related arrests and wrecks are an embarrassment to a minority already beleaguered by hard feelings over illegal immigration.
"It makes the Mexicans look bad, very bad," Hernandez said. "The American people say 'Oh, it's just another Hispanic, the same as the others.'"
In 2005, there were 37 alcohol-related crashes caused by Hispanic drivers for every 10,000 Hispanics in the state, according to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. That is more than three times the rate of alcohol-related crashes among non-Hispanics.
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Hispanic European-Americans have long resented the government and media misuse of the word "Hispanic," which is usually used to refer to the mixed-race people who make up the bulk of Spanish-speakers in the United States, and whose proper appellation, used by both themselves and others in the Spanish-speaking world, is "Mestizo." This general term does not have negative connotations, and is actually celebrated as the national identity of Mexico, whose capital boasts the huge Plaza de las Tres Culturas ("Plaza of the Three Cultures"), meant to symbolize the union of the Indians and Spaniards in the mixed "mestizo" present. Latin America has a complex racial classification system that has been in existence since shortly after the first contacts. The cultural insensitivity expressed by the misuse of the word "Hispanic" in the United States is willfully perpetuated for political reasons and reinforces the Ibero-American perception of "Yanquis" as ignorant bullies.