“The Latino Vote”

04Feb13

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.



23 Responses to ““The Latino Vote””

  1. 1 Steve Greathouse

    Terrific article, very nicely done. I agree wholeheartedly. We’re all Americans, we’re in this together.

  2. 3 delftsman3

    Thanks for a great essay Chris. All too many hyphenated americans seem to forget just what a great country America really is.

    If we went with the blood theory of being American; you would be more American than I am. My parents emigrated from the Netherlands with two young boys with $36. in their pocket and a dream for a better life. Neither one of them spoke more than 3 or 4 words of English. The FIRST thing they did was to learn the language to be able to interact with other people. They worked any menial job they could while doing so. They knew that they had to earn their way up the ladder and took every opportunity presented to do so. I admit that, at that time in the 50’s, that being white MAY have been an advantage, but they did experience some discrimination due to their thick accents, which most people took as being German, remember this wasn’t all that long after the war and many still felt anger towards the Germans at that time (The funny thing about that is my Fathers attitude towards the Germans was that the the “only good was a dead one” due to his own experiences with them in the war).

    Even in Holland there are great divides among the population, the Northern sections looked down on the Southern (even those section are within a fifty miles), The Protestants and Catholics divided sections of cities into enclaves where the opposite religion was not welcome. The Gentry looked down on the commoner. I’m sure it isn’t that way so much anymore, but in the 40’s and 50’s it was extremely pronounced

    I am very proud of my Dutch heritage, but I am much prouder of being a Naturalized American Citizen. I don’t believe in Hyphenated Americans of any color or race. Either BE an AMERICAN, or go back to wherever you came from. ALL my brothers and I served in the Military because we felt gratitude for our new homeland.

    I find it funny when a Black man states that he is proudly African, and that America has done nothing but harm to his people; I always tell him “thats great, what tribe are you?” If anyone thinks they have it so bad here, then they should try to live in Africa, where your tribe dictates who your enemies will be and what you are alllowed to do. The Balkans have nothing on the intercine battles that have occurred between the African tribes for millenia.
    I’ve been called a racist for stating that; but if stating a fact of history is racist, then I guess I am. I would much rather judge a man by his actions rather than by his skin tone or accent.

    • We as a nation forget how hard all immigrant groups had it when they first arrived. We forget the “No dogs or Irishmen allowed” signs on some businesses. And we definitely forget how fortunate we are here, and how many opportunities this nation holds for anyone willing to pursue them. Thanks for your story, and I don’t think your comments sounded racist at all.

      Chris

  3. I agree. I’ve been to Mexico a total of 4 times in my life and never for longer than one night. I am an American. My time, my money and my heart stays here. I vote for the best person for the job whether Democrat or Republican.

    • I wish I could visit family in Mexico more often. I like a lot of things about Mexico. It’s a place I respect for its history, it’s still home to part of our family, and I wish the best for Mexican citizens. But it’s not my country, and never will be.

  4. 7 Jake

    Great article. Keep up the good work, brother.

  5. 9 Khanh

    Great short write up, Chris. I have never understood how people can take so much risks to get out of the country they were from to come here AND then turned around to live the life from which they wanted to escape. I have seen this in many different ethnic groups, including mine, Vietnamese. I was born a Vietnamese, but I have live here more than ¾ of my life as an American. My biggest gripe with some of the immigrant groups, and we are not even talking about illegal aliens, is the fact that they come here and force us to conform to them instead of changing themselves to adopt to this new land. For example, I would like to legally, or illegally, get into Mexico to live there indefinitely and slowly force the Mexican government to accommodate my family by having all of its legal documents translated into Vietnamese or English. Forcing them to teach my children in Vietnamese or English… Over the years, I have this to say to just about anyone who is hating this country so much: Just leave, nobody is forcing you to stay; We are not Cuba, North Korea, China or Vietnam. However, I am concern about the future of this country because I am seeing more and more signs of the government moving us ever closer to a big Socialist state like the ones I listed above. I left VN at the end of the war because we couldn’t stand socialism/communism then, I am sure as h*** not liking it now or in the future for my children.

    • Khanh,

      I hope you continue to speak out. Americans originally born elsewhere often have a different and valuable perspective on America and freedom. I absolutely agree with you that we would be morons to move to another country and force them to accommodate us. If we do that, we’re being “ugly Americans”, but if immigrants do that here, it’s our fault for not being sensitive enough.

      Lately we hear a lot of talk about wonderful, safe and gun-free countries like Canada, Australia and the UK. They allow immigration. If life looks so much better there, those who view this country with disdain might vote with their feet. Then we’d all be happier.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, I hope to hear from you more in the future.

      Chris

  6. A long time ago, Steven Den Beste (U.S.S. Clueless) wrote an excellent piece on the topic of what it is that makes us Americans, Non-European Country. He says much the same as you:

    “European “nations” are based on ethnicity, language or geography. The American nation is based on an idea, and those who voluntarily came here to join the American experiment were dedicated to that idea. They came from every possible geographic location, speaking every possible language, deriving from every possible ethnicity, but most of them think of themselves as Americans anyway, because that idea is more important than ethnicity or language or geographical origin. That idea was more important to them than the things which tried to bind them to their original nation, and in order to become part of that idea they left their geographical origin. Most of them learned a new language. They mixed with people of a wide variety of ethnicities, and a lot of them cross-married. And yet we consider ourselves one people, because we share that idea. It is the only thing which binds us together, but it binds us as strongly as any nation.

    “Indeed, it seems to bind us much more strongly than most nations. If I were to move to the UK, and became a citizen there, I would forever be thought of by the British as being “American”. Even if I lived there fifty years, I would never be viewed as British. But Brits who come here and naturalize are thought of as American by those of us who were born here. They embrace that idea, and that’s all that matters. If they do, they’re one of us. And so are the Persians who naturalize, and the Chinese, and the Bengalis, and the Estonians, and the Russians. (I know that because I’ve worked with all of those, all naturalized, and all of them as American as I am.)

    “You’re French if you’re born in France, of French parents. You’re English if you’re born to English parents (and Welsh if your parents were Welsh). But you’re American if you think you’re American, and are willing to give up what you used to be in order to be one of us. That’s all it takes. But that’s a lot, because “thinking you’re American” requires you to comprehend that idea we all share. But even the French can do it, and a lot of them have.”

    A brilliant observation then, and still brilliant now. It’s a shame so few people really grasp that difference.

    • That is an amazing, beautifully written essay. Good thing I had never heard of it, or I would have felt like I was ripping Beste off :).

      One great thing about America is that a 50 year old white woman, 2 year old black kid, 90 year old Chinese guy, and 30 year old Arab woman all have one thing in common: they all look American.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and please come back to share your views.

      Chris

  7. 13 James Sullivan

    I just found this blog but I plan to come here regularly. Great writing and thanks for delineating so clearly another reason why we are lucky to have this country.

    • I’ve traveled to lots of places in the world, and have seen beautiful places and met great people, but nowhere in the world is as good as America. I love this country.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and come back anytime.

      Chris

  8. I just wanted to leave one more thing from something I posted in 2008:

    “America is exceptional, Judy, because America is the combination of all the peoples of the world, many of whom made a conscious choice to become Americans, and many more are the immediate descendants of such people. Look at the last Olympic games. Review just some of the names of American medal winners: Liukin, Liezak, Torres, Vanderkaay, Zagunis, Kai, Rodriguez, Taurasi, O’Reilly, Ah Mow-Santos, Haneef-Park, Nnamani. Those are all AMERICAN names….”

  9. 17 Scott

    Redirected by a post from Lawdog –

    This is some great reading Chris. I swear if half of the blogging police officers got together a published a book it would be a national best seller.

    Thanks for your time composing these posts and keep it up!

    • Scott,

      I wish I had kept a diary of every day on the street. I swear I’ve forgotten more amazing crap than I can remember and write about. For a book of cop stories, read Cops by Mark Baker. Good stuff.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and stay safe.

      Chris

  10. 19 Joshua Green

    You are culturally indoctrinated; but the sad truth is most of Latin American descent are not. You are the exception that proves the rule.

    Unlike the pan-European immigrations of the 19th century, todays immigrant from Mexico and points south are not American, not even Latino-American. They are purveyors of the Latino Cultural Sphere. Their nation is others like them.

    Part of this is because of their own determination to make it so, but mostly it is because of the attitude we now have towards such people. In days of old, they would be culturally indoctrinated to become American, as your ancestors were. Now, they are allowed to maintain their own separate cultural identity, separate from America, because of what is called “multiculturalism”.

    If you think this racist, consider; what did the various barbarian tribes do to the Roman Empire? What did the Angles, Saxons and Jutes do to Celtic Britain? What did the first European settlers do to the natives of North America? (It always kills me when liberals bring out the Native American as justification, when what happened to them only proves the modern anti-immigration faction correct!) Now Americans are suffering this same fate at the hands of Latinos. Not because Latinos are bad or evil, but because Latinos are *promoting their own culture.* They are doing what is in their culture’s best interest. Americans, sadly, are not.

    • 20 Rose

      There are no “native” Americans. However, it is widely accepted that Europeans were the first inhabitants of North America after traveling over the Bering Strait.

      Also, if the “out of Africa” theory is true how did these “natives” that you mention get here?

      Identity politics and group politics are un-American but that is exactly how ethnic groups vote, in the interest of their identity.

  11. Well said.
    -signed Mutt. Far too many hyphens apply and I’m not terribly fond of them anyway.

  12. 22 Emmanuel

    Another very intersting post, Chris.
    I though I would leave a little message regarding the way we see things in France, because my country has been cited in your article.

    First of all, I would say that ethnicity is probably more important in Europe than in the US, because the Celtic/Frankish/Latin people are the indigenous (meaning the original inhabitants) people of Europe.

    A lot of European countries believe in bloodlines (Germany for example).

    But in the case of France, since our Revolution, the French psyche believes that in order to be truly French and be accepted as such by your fellow citizens, you have to “adopt” French culture wholeheartedly, and leave your roots behind. We’re very conformist… We didn’t adopt the multi-cultural attitude.

    The color of skin doesn’t matter much, but culture is of the utmost importance, it’s how you assimilate, it’s what makes French citizenship more than a piece of paper.
    People who have trouble adjusting to that (those who ostentatiously show others that they keep customs from their country of origin) will never fit.

    It’s the biggest problem with the recent wave of immigrants (they can’t keep religion a private matter contrary to French practice in which secularism is sacro-saint, they insist on speaking with artificial (forced speech) accents to differentiate from “ethnic French people”, they demand “rights” which are contrary to the French constitution).

    Maybe that’s not very well known in the US, but France has been a land of immigration for centuries without any problems until the last few decades.
    That’s because until the 1960s, immigrants were of European stock, with judeo-christian mentalities which were compatible with the French way of life.

    I’m myself a 3rd generation immigrant (my grandfather was Slovenian), but no one in my familiy has ever had any problems being regraded as other than 100% French by their neighbors, because we assimilated completely.

    I hope that what I wrote added just a little more insight into what differentiates America from France.

    Emmanuel from France.

    • Emmanuel,

      Thanks for that comment, it does help explain the different mentalities in Europe. When I worked with the French army I felt there was a sense of resentment toward Muslim immigrants in general, but there were also ethnic Arab soldiers who seemed to be completely assimilated into French culture. Black French soldiers didn’t seem to be viewed as any different than white soldiers.

      Since I came home I’ve read a little more about the conflicts between French society and North African immigrants. It seems to me that a huge portion of the population in France (not the “French” population) is actively fighting against French culture. We don’t have that problem to the same degree here, although it definitely exists in smaller doses.

      I really hope I get to spend some time in France and get to know the culture better.

      Thanks again Emmanuel, I hope you keep coming back to comment on my posts.


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