The New Mexico governor and Democratic Presidential candidate has an unusual background — New England high WASP and Mexican. His grandfather was a Boston naturalist of Mayflower descent who collected specimens in Central America and married a Mexican lady from a prestigious family of Oaxaca. He became a planter and rancher in Nicaragua, and, according to the candidate's autobiography Between Worlds, "fathered children by four different women in Mexico and Central America."
Richardson's father was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Latin America and on the Eastern Seaboard, including Boston, Vermont, and Fisher's Island in Long Island Sound, home to an ultra-exclusive Charles Blair Macdonald golf course. During the 1913 Tufts-Army football game, he tackled cadet Dwight Eisenhower, breaking his leg. Richardson's dad went to work for what is now Citicorp in Italy and married an Italian colonel's daughter in Genoa. He was the top Citicorp banker in Mexico City from 1929-1956 and married his Mexican secretary (making Richardson 3/4th Mexican, 1/4th WASP). Richardson's father sent his pregnant mother to Pasadena, CA so that Richardson would be born in America (making him eligible for the Presidency).
Richardson was raised by his parents in Mexico City for 13 years before being sent to prep school in Massachusetts. Richardson then attended private Tufts U. as a legacy, to which his father had donated generously. There he majored in international affairs at the Fletcher School. He married a Massachusetts girl of (I believe) Irish and Jewish descent.
Richardson went to work as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations committee. In 1978, Richardson carpetbagged his way to heavily Hispanic New Mexico and became a professional politician. He has held a variety of posts such as Congressman, Energy Secretary, UN Ambassador, and the Clinton Administration designated negotiator with foreign dictators. He is now a second term governor of New Mexico.
Presumably, his career has been helped along by being a twofer — he's one of these new-fangled Mexican-Americans and he's a traditional preppie WASP Old Boy at the same time!
Richardson's resume resembles the elder George Bush's — lots of impressive sounding jobs, both in a Southwestern state and in the corridors of power of the Eastern Establishment, but nobody's too sure whether he did a good job in any of them.
On paper, he sounds like a plausible Democratic nominee in 2008. To win, the Democrats don't seem to need to gamble on a high-risk candidate like the irascible Hillary or the sometimes brilliant but moody and self-absorbed Obama. They just need a guy who won't blow it for them. And yet, Richardson's candidacy doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
That Richardson is 3/4th Hispanic has generated only a tiny fraction of the frenzy of interest that Barack Obama being 1/2 black has generated, which fits my theory that most Americans barely notice mestizos compared to blacks, especially if they don't have a Spanish surname. Americans really aren't very interested in Mexicans, while, love 'em or loathe 'em, they find blacks fascinating.
Obama, who wrote a 442 page thematic autobiography about his being psychologically tortured by his lifelong resentment of his mother's race, is praised by people who obviously haven't read his book for being the "post-racial" man "comfortable in his own skin" who "transcends race." Ironically, all those phrases would seem to fit the sunny, glad-handing Richardson far better than they apply to the race-obsessed Obama. And yet, while so many people credulously project their racial fantasies onto Obama and pay no attention to what the man actually wrote at age 33, Richardson, when anybody notices him or his ancestry at all, seems to attract suspicion and irritation, as on Meet the Press on Sunday, when Tim Russert grilled Richardson in a way that he wouldn't dare with the widely-worshipped Obama.
Running for President, Richardson can't seem to figure out what to do about his dual ethnicity. His whole career, it's been this nice little advantage for him, but now he's running for President and it's taking on this symbolic importance that he can't quite figure out how to spin. Sometimes Richardson sounds as ethnocentric as Cruz Bustamante, the centrist Democratic Lt. Governor of California who could have gotten himself elected California Governor in the three-way recall election of 2003 against the Republicans Schwarzenegger and McClintock, but, for some inexplicable reason, decided to campaign for Gobernador de Alta California instead. (Perhaps he believed Karl Rove's hype about the size of the Latino vote?) Bustamante ended up turning an early lead in the polls over Arnold into a 17 point loss.
Other times, Richardson sounds like the Washington insider he is.
He ends up seeming phony, which, combined with some veracity problems (e.g., he always claimed he was drafted by a big league baseball team, but he wasn't) and New Mexico's reputation as the Louisiana of the desert when it comes to crooked politicos, isn't helping his campaign.
The only other prominent American I can think of who was high WASP and Mexican (assuming the President's nephew George P. Bush is not a prominent American yet) was the CIA's paranoid genius spymaster James Jesus Angleton. (Matt Damon played him as a dull WASP in last year's oddly intentionally-less-interesting-than-reality Robert De Niro movie "The Good Shepherd.") Angleton's father was a cavalry officer in Pershing's 1917 punitive expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his mother was a 17-year-old Mexican society beauty. Angleton was raised mostly in Italy where his father was an NCR executive and attended prep school in England.