“The Latino Vote”
One day in Kosovo I was in an office talking with an American officer. As we spoke, a local interpreter stared at me, then blurted out, “You’re not really American, are you?”
I looked back, annoyed. “Yes I am American. I was born in America, my parents were born there, and my grandparents were born there.”
She shook her head. “But your last name is Hernandez. So you must be mixed.”
The other officer and I tried to explain to her that American isn’t a race or ethnic group. We told her American citizenship has nothing to do with someone’s blood. I told her that if she moved to America and got her citizenship, she’d be just as American as I am.
She didn’t believe it. In Kosovo, as in most of Europe and much of the rest of the world, your ethnic identity is your lifetime identity. When I spoke to other European officers about it, they told me that if I moved to England or France or Germany and became a citizen, nobody would think of me as English, French or German. I’d always be “the Mexican”.
I thought that attitude was ridiculous. It made me appreciate the United States that much more. In this country, your race or ethnicity should mean nothing. We’re all supposed to be Americans, putting country before race, ethnic group or tribe. In Kosovo I learned why the Balkans have always been such a tinderbox of war and hatred; the people there identify by blood rather than nationality. They will always choose blood over nation, even when their ethnic brothers are blatantly wrong.
I enjoyed my time in Kosovo, but I wasn’t sad to leave that tribal mentality behind when I came back. Unfortunately, I was wrong to assume that mindset stayed in Kosovo. As it turned out, it followed me home.
During the election campaigns I heard constant references to the “Latino vote”. The Republican party was rebuked for not appealing to Hispanic voters and is now supposedly in danger of losing power unless it embraces Hispanics. Now that the election is over, we’re embroiled in a national debate about immigration. My stance on the issue, just like my vote, is supposedly assured by virtue of my last name. Far too many people assume I’ll choose blood over nation, because far too many fellow Hispanics are doing just that.
I’ll make this perfectly clear: I am proud of my Mexican roots. But my pride probably doesn’t come from where you think it does. I don’t think being Hispanic makes me better than anyone else. My ethnicity was nothing more than an accident of birth. Proclaiming “I’m proud I was born white/black/Hispanic/Asian” means pretty much nothing to me. Do we somehow earn our bloodline? Claiming pride for something you didn’t earn makes about as much sense as being proud you have two arms or two ears. You didn’t work for them.
And doesn’t pride suggest you believe you’re better than someone else? I’m proud I was a Marine, because I believe the Marines are the best fighting force on earth. I’m proud I’m a soldier because our Army is better than almost any other. Pride doesn’t come from thinking you’re less than others, it comes from thinking you’re better. So when you claim pride in your race, aren’t you saying your race is better than others?
I’m proud of my Mexican ancestry, but not because I think Mexicans are inherently better than anyone else. It’s because of what people like me have done for AMERICA. It’s because many of us have worked hard to make THIS COUNTRY better.
My great grandfather was in the U.S. Army during World War One. According to family legend, he was about to head overseas when the Armistice was announced. During World War Two my great uncle Leo fought the Japanese in the Philippines and was apparently killed in the Bataan Death March. Some of his brothers served in the Army Air Corps in Europe. His youngest brother was a Marine in Korea and fought at the Chosin Reservoir. My grandfather served in the Navy. His brother was in the 82nd Airborne and jumped at Sicily, Normandy and Holland. My father and his brothers all served in the Air Force. My father’s cousin was wounded as an infantry medic in Vietnam and later retired from the Navy as a high-ranking officer. That makes me proud.
Many of the women in my family have worked as teachers and nurses. My sister has spent years helping abused children and runs a nonprofit organization for veterans. My mother earned a Bachelor’s Degree while working full time and raising five children. She was a great teacher for over twenty years. That makes me proud.
Get my point? My family’s service to America justifies my pride in my ethnic background. All the Hispanic Medal of Honor winners justify my pride. Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez justifies my pride. All the teachers, cops and soldiers with names like Perez and Arriaga and Almendarez, who are integral parts of their communities and units, justify my pride. Their service to America, not Mexico, is why I honor them.
I wore an American flag on my shoulder in combat. Not a Mexican flag. My allegiance is clear. I serve this country, not any other.
So back to the election and immigration debate. Many pundits and strategists have spoken at length about the Latino vote. This always leaves me confused. Are my concerns supposed to be different than a white guy’s, or a black guy’s? Do I want something other than security, peace and prosperity for my country? How am I supposed to vote? If anyone thinks I’ll vote for something other than what I think is best for America, they’re wrong. When it comes to immigration or border security, I will choose my country over any other. Every time.
Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with many illegal immigrants. If I was living in Mexico, I would get here legally or illegally. I know many illegal immigrants are honest, hard workers. I don’t think guys mowing lawns in 110 degree heat on Wednesday are making $50,000 selling cocaine on Saturday. Many of those guys actually want to be American. I support ANYONE who wants to come here and be an AMERICAN. I respect anyone willing to work for a shot at success.
I know we’ll never deport every illegal alien here, and we really shouldn’t. Those willing to work, pay taxes and follow our laws might deserve a path to citizenship. Some might be great men like Marine Sergeant Rafael Peralta. Peralta came to America illegally, joined the Marines the day after he got his green card and died protecting other Marines in Fallujah. Men like Peralta are to be honored and welcomed.
Others, who don’t respect or value our culture, deserve nothing from us. Watch some of the “Day without a Mexican” protest videos. See how many Mexican flags were flying. See how often protest organizers had to ask people to put those flags away, because it didn’t fit with the false “we really want to be Americans” theme. See how many gang signs were thrown. See how many people expressed disgust with America. Look around certain neighborhoods and see how many illegal immigrants have been living here for decades yet refuse to learn English. Listen to how many of their children express hatred of America and long to live in Mexico (without considering why their parents tried so hard to escape from there). Put yourself in my shoes as a cop, and imagine being ordered to speak Spanish by an illegal immigrant. Don’t tell me for a second all illegal aliens cherish this country. I won’t believe it.
Remember that I only speak for myself. Some of my friends and family are proud of Latino voting power, feel that we are different from the rest of the country and should vote along ethnic lines. I think that attitude is flat-out wrong. My answer to them is, “Sure, let’s do that. Let’s put our race over our nation. It’s worked great in the Balkans.”
During my childhood, I often heard the word “gringo”. I was warned repeatedly that Hispanics are discriminated against. I heard concrete examples of discrimination from my family’s past. As an adult, I’ve been insulted for being “Mexican”. But I haven’t found a racist hiding under every rock. I haven’t suffered because some people don’t like Hispanics. I’ve learned that many Hispanics, blacks and Asians, all the people who are allegedly still being oppressed by whites, harbor their own prejudices.
Maybe I’m lucky to live in Texas, where Hispanics are integrated into all aspects of society. But I’ve traveled all over America. I’ve never, not one time, felt unwelcome because of my ethnicity. And I’m not going to live like I’m under siege, swimming in a sea of barely hidden racism, just waiting for the day whites stop pretending and show their true hatred of all things unwhite. I won’t teach my children to live that way. I feel safe and valued in my country. My parents’ and grandparents’ experiences were real, and terrible, but they don’t shape how I live today.
So my request to any politician willing to listen, or to all Americans for that matter, is this: stop considering me different because of my heritage. Stop placing me in an “other” category. Stop calling me “Mexican-American”. I’m an American, period. I don’t vote along racial lines. I don’t think the best thing for my country is to allow unchecked illegal immigration from another country. I don’t place ethnic concerns over national concerns.
I’m a little darker than some people, a little shorter, speak Spanish (poorly), love Mexican food, and am damn proud of my curvy little Hispanic wife. That doesn’t mean I’ll vote with my blood instead of my brain.
My vote goes to the candidate or party who best serves the nation as a whole. Because what’s best for America is best for every race and ethnic group in it. White, black, Hispanic, Arab, Native American, Vietnamese, whatever. Even if we have different ideas about achieving it, we all want the same thing. And our votes should come from reason and intellect, not our blood.
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Tags: hispanic, immigration, latino, latino vote, politics