Much has been made by now of the story of Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern credited with likely saving the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after Saturday's assassination attempt and shooting rampage in Tucson. The University of Arizona student ran toward the victims after hearing shots fired, checking the pulses of those on the ground and holding Giffords upright as he applied constant pressure to the wound on her forehead. Even after help arrived, he didn't leave her side. He had been on the job with Giffords' office for five days.
At first, it was simply news that he was heroic. It then became news that he was heroic while also being Latino and gay.
In another place at another time, only the heroism would have mattered. But because this occurred in 2011 in Arizona, where it's no secret that Latinos and gays have felt slighted by some of their political leaders, Hernandez's act of bravery has become as much symbolic as heroic.
Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams asks why Hernandez's ethnicity and sexual orientation should matter, then answers:
It matters because guys like Arizona Sen. John McCain, who described the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" as "a very sad day," still think that orientation has an effect on whether or not a person can ably serve in the military.
...It matters because last week, when Arizona banned a Tucson district's Mexican-American studies program, state's Attorney General Tom Horne referred to it as "propagandizing and brainwashing." It matters because just last year Arizona enacted a law that would not merely allow but require immigration officials to determine the immigration status of anyone "where reasonable suspicion exists" that the person might be in the country illegally. And "reasonable suspicion," as many civil libertarians pointed out, might just boil down to having a darker shade of skin or speaking Spanish.
Latino and gay issues bloggers have been writing about Hernandez in the same context. A post on GayAgenda also challenges McCain's position on gays in the military, concluding:
One's sexuality, Hernandez shows, has absolutely nothing to do with courage, nor the ability to protect others in the face of danger — in this case, a raging madman with a gun.
On My Latino Voice, Rosa Alonso writes about the greater significance of Hernandez's ethnicity and sexual orientation, followed by:
Do any of these "labels" matter? No. Daniel Hernandez is a hero, period. But that is just the point. They shouldn't. Perhaps a glimmer of "hope" in Arizona - and for this great country of ours.
Today, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer led a standing ovation for Hernandez at the state capitol.