Hispanic Consciousness, Part I
Hispanics are loyal to race and homeland, not America.
Traditionally, when Americans thought of race, they thought of the often painful history of relations between blacks and whites. This view is out of date; the United States now has several racial fault lines rather than just one. The scarcely-noticed handful of Hispanics present in the 1950s has become the largest racial minority in the country.
Like blacks, many Hispanics have identities — racial, ethnic, or national — that prevent full or even primary identification as Ame-ricans. Immigrants from Mexico, who account for two thirds of all Hispanics, are especially ambivalent and often even hostile towards the United States. It is part of their national culture to see the United States as an imperialist power that humiliated and dismembered Mexico after the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Many openly preach reconquista or reconquest — at least culturally, and perhaps even politically — of those regions of the American Southwest that were once Mexican.
There are already parts of the United States in which people live in exclusively Spanish-speaking environments, where they have no need to be part of the larger culture. If Hispanic immigration, both legal and illegal, continues at its current pace, these areas will grow, and become increasingly isolated and alien. At the same time, through sheer force of numbers, Hispanics are imposing their language, politics, and cultural preferences on other Americans.
Blacks have been part of the United States for hundreds of years. Brought involuntarily, they have a historic and moral claim on America. Hispanics, whose presence in large numbers is recent and unplanned, do not have the same claims, but this has not prevented them from making similar demands. They have been quick to assume the mantle of victimhood, to attribute poverty or social failure to racism, and to take advantage of preference programs originally established for descendants of slaves. Even Hispanics who have just arrived in this country do not hesitate to accept advantages in the name of “diversity” or “equal opportunity” that are denied to whites.
Hispanics are therefore very much like blacks in their vivid sense of their own group interests, their tendency to see the world in starkly racial/ethnic terms, and their reluctance to adopt the broader American identity whites think necessary for integration and assimilation. This racial/ethnic identity is kept fresh by the continuous arrival of new immigrants. However, even if immigration were to stop tomorrow, there are now enough Hispanics — especially Mexicans — to maintain a particularist, parochial identity indefinitely. In the space of just a few decades our country has established a second group of Americans with many of the most disturbing characteristics of blacks: racially distinct, with an inward-looking identity, suffering disproportionately from poverty, crime, illegitimacy and school failure.
Who are the Hispanics?
In 2005, there were 42.7 million Hispanics in the United States. They made up 14.4 percent of a population that was 66.9 percent white, 12.3 percent black, 4.2 percent Asian, 1.4 percent Pacific Islander, and 0.8 percent American Indian.
|Hispanics are very much like blacks in their vivid sense of their own group interests.|
A large majority of Hispanics — 66 percent — are of Mexican origin. No less than 20 percent of the population of Mexico now lives in the United States, and one out of every seven Mexican workers has migrated here. Many more would like to come: According to a recent survey, almost half of all Mexicans said that they would move to the United States if they had the chance.
The 33 percent of Hispanics who are not from Mexico have mainly the following origins: 17 percent Latin American, nine percent Puerto Rican, and four percent Cuban. The characteristics of these populations are often quite different, with Cuban immigrants generally more economically successful than those from Mexico, Central America, or Puerto Rico.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Hispanic population increased at an annual rate of 3.7 percent, no less than 14 times the growth rate for whites, and more than three times the black rate. This increase was due both to high birthrates and to immigration of about 800,000 Hispanics every year. Much of this immigration was illegal. The best estimates are that Hispanics account for 78 percent — and Mexicans for 56 percent — of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
When they become US citizens, Hispanics remain emotionally attached to their countries of origin. In a poll taken by the Pew Hispanic Center only a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks, at a time when most Americans were feeling deeply patriotic, only 33 percent of citizens of Hispanic origin considered themselves first or only American. Forty-four percent still described themselves as their original, pre-immigration nationality (Mexican, Salvadoran, etc.), and another 22 percent considered themselves first or only “Latino or Hispanic.” It is likely that U.S. citizens of Mexican origin have an even weaker American identity than other Hispanics because they are surrounded by compatriots and their country of origin is so close. When citizens and non-citizens of Mexican origin are taken together, 55 percent consider themselves Mexican, 25 percent Latino or Hispanic, and only 18 percent American. For non-Hispanics, it is unsettling to learn that that so many fellow Americans do not feel a primary loyalty to the United States.
|Hispanic radio host in Allentown, Pennsylvania, of all places. ‘You have the power. She is your voice.’|
Most Americans believe that a willingness to learn English is a prerequisite to assimilation and full participation in American life, but this does not appear to be a high priority for many Hispanics. According to a 2006 poll conducted by Investor’s Business Daily, only 19 percent of Hispanics spoke mostly or only English at home. Eighty-one percent spoke only or mostly Spanish. Even Hispanics who are comfortable in both languages maintain a strong preference for Spanish; according to a poll by P.C. Koch, nearly 90 percent of bilingual Hispanics get their news exclusively from Spanish-language sources.
A Yankelovich survey in 2000 found that 69 percent of Hispanics said Spanish was more important to them than it was five years ago. In 1997 that figure was 63 percent. During the same period the percentage of Hispanics who expressed a desire to fit into American society dropped from 72 to 64 percent.
In 2003, 44 percent of Hispanics did not speak and read English well enough to perform routine tasks, up from 35 percent in 1992. English illiteracy therefore increased for Hispanics during the decade, whereas it declined for every other major population group. Fifty-three percent of working-age residents in Los Angeles County have trouble reading street signs or filling out job applications in English.
Just how firmly rooted the Spanish language has become in parts of America was clear when 200 students demonstrated in front of Miami Senior High in Miami, Florida. They were protesting the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which is the official state test students must pass to get a high school diploma. Their complaint? They had to take the test in English. “We are a Hispanic-based society,” explained Gerrter Martin, who had failed the test twice. “My dreams are over,” said Jessica Duran, who had also failed. State Rep. Ralph Arza promised to introduce legislation to offer the FCAT in Spanish.
Hispanic resentment should not be surprising. “In Miami there is no pressure to be American,” explained Cuban-born Lisandra Perez, head of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “Our parents had to hassle with Anglo society, but we don’t; this is our city,” explained one US-born Cuban. In Miami, this attitude is common. “They’re outsiders,” said one successful Hispanic of non-Hispanics. “Here we are members of the power structure,” boasted another. For people like this, a requirement that high school graduates be able to speak English is an alien and incomprehensible imposition.
|“The Hispanic who doesn‘t speak Spanish.”|
The sentiment that Hispanics need no longer adjust to the United States — that the United States will adjust to them — is not limited to cities like Miami and Los Angeles where Hispanics have been present for decades. Salt Lake City, Utah, is hardly a traditional Hispanic stronghold, but it saw its Hispanic population increase 138 percent during the 1990s, from 84,597 to 201,559. Early immigrants tried to learn English and American ways but once there were enough Hispanics to create a parallel society, many gave up the effort. As Archie Archuleta, a city employee who works as an administrator for minority affairs explained, “Most of us don’t push for assimilation. We push for accommodation.”
Dan Pena, an American-born Hispanic who is a chef at a restaurant in Chaska, Minnesota, says it is silly to expect Hispanics to assimilate. “When Europeans came here, home was an ocean apart. For Mexicans, it’s a river, just 60 feet wide.” Jose Salinas, another Mexican immigrant to Minnesota agrees: “I maybe want to stay here. But even if I do, I can’t forget my country, my family, my traditions.”
Dominicans, one of the largest immigrant groups in New York City, feel equally ambivalent about assimilation. As Nelson Diaz who was active in Dominican politics in the city explained: “[W]e are always thinking about going back. The first thing everybody does as soon as they make some money here is to buy a house back home and then a car. Dominicans don’t buy houses here because they don’t think they live here.”
“Rich Latinos remain ambivalent toward America just as much as poor ones,” explains Roberto Suro, formerly of the Washington Post and now at the Pew Hispanic Trust. “In fact, wealth may make it even easier to avoid full engagement with the new land.” Mr. Suro explains the consequences of this sense of detachment. He notes that as many Hispanics as blacks rioted in Los Angeles in 1992 after the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial. Why? “To most [Hispanic] people here, this is still a foreign place that belongs to someone else.”
Some Hispanics insist there is really nothing in America to which immigrants could assimilate anyway. David E. Hayes-Bautista, a sociologist at UCLA, explains that the Hispanic experience shows that “being American simply mans buying a house with a mortgage and getting ahead — there is no agreement anymore on culture, only on economics.” Jorge Ramos, anchorman for the Spanish-language television network Univision explains the absence of anything genuinely American in slightly different terms: “I believe that this country’s two main characteristics are its acceptance of immigrants and its tolerance of diversity… That’s what it means to be American.” In other words, what Americans have in common is nothing more than a willingness to have nothing else in common.
This assertion that there is nothing to assimilate to is disingenuous; Hispanics scorn those among their people who assimilate too far. Just as blacks judge each other according to whether they are “black enough,” some Hispanics keep an eye on who is “brown enough.” At one time Linda Chavez was considered as a possible labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration, but came under sharp attack from Hispanics who mocked her as the “Hispanic who doesn’t speak Spanish.”
Nor can a conservative be truly Hispanic. “It’s kind of like if you are black and conservative, there is no way you are really black,” explained Rosemarie Avila, a trustee on the Santa Ana, California, school board. “If you are going to be Latina, you have to be a Democrat. Otherwise you are not truly Latina.” She should know. Other members of the all-Hispanic school board say she is a fake because of her conservative politics.
Hispanics show typical patterns of ethnic nepotism — living among, voting for, and hiring people like themselves. Three Arab employees successfully sued the Azteca chain of Mexican restaurants found in Oregon and Washington state. “The managers at these Azteca establishments made it very clear, by their verbal abuse and physical actions, that they did not want anyone other than those of Hispanic descent working in their restaurants,” explained lawyer Tony Shapiro after the chain settled for an undisclosed sum.
|Remember: it’s Sanchez, not Brixey.|
Likewise, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal discrimination suit against a Hispanic grocer, Compare Foods, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The store carried a wide range of Hispanic foods, flew Central and South American flags, and greeted shoppers with Hispanic music. The EEOC accused the store of firing long-term workers simply because they were not Hispanic.
Hispanic groups routinely monitor employers, demanding proportionate hiring of fellow Hispanics. Entirely typical was a report by the National Hispanic Leadership Association, an umbrella organization that represents 40 different Hispanic groups, blasting the federal Office of Personnel Management for “failing to promote more government hiring and retention of Hispanic employees.” The report gave the agency a failing grade for its efforts.
As for racial solidarity in housing, a black woman named Aretha Jackson, who worked for the San Fernando Valley Fair Housing Council tracking racial discrimination in apartment rentals, quit her job in disgust, convinced that Hispanic discrimination against blacks was so widespread nothing could be done about it. Sharon Kinlaw, who is with the same organization, pointed out that Hispanic landlords not only kept out non-Hispanics, they often rented only to people from their own country. “You have the Guatemalans versus the Mexicans versus the Salvadorans,” she said. Chancela Al-Mansour, a lawyer with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County reported, “I’ve heard people saying, ‘Well, he’s from another state [within] Mexico.’ And the apartment manager only rents to people from the same state in Mexico. Our fair housing laws haven’t even anticipated that.”
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, California, quickly learned the importance of Hispanic solidarity. When she campaigned under her married name of Brixey, she lost a bid for a seat on the Anaheim City Council. She found that her maiden name of Sanchez has a much better resonance among the voters she needs to reach.
|Click on the map to open a larger copy.|
Like blacks, Hispanics have set up a number of organizations to advance specifically Hispanic interests. The oldest is the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As the word “citizen” in its name suggests, it was originally open only to US citizens, and promoted assimilation and patriotism, stressing that Mexican-Americans were American, not Mexican. It supported President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” which deported one million illegal aliens back to Mexico. LULAC has since changed dramatically. Membership is now open to illegal aliens. It wants Hispanics to speak Spanish, and fights recognition of the central role of English. It supports preferences for Hispanics in hiring, contracting, and college-admissions, and its attitude toward immigration is summed up in the words of a former director Jose Velez: the Border Patrol is “the enemy of my people and always will be.” Needless to say, “his people,” are not the American people.
One of the reasons LULAC stopped pushing for assimilation is that it had to compete with more radical Hispanic organizations that were robbing it of support. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), set up in 1968 by break-away LULAC members, was modeled on the NAACP-Legal Defense Fund. It has litigated in support of social benefits for illegal aliens, for affirmative action for Hispanics, and against border control, but it appears to have larger aspirations. One of its first executives was Mario Obledo, who has also served as California secretary of health and welfare. In an interview on radio station KIEV in Los Angeles on June 17, 1998, he warned listeners: “We’re going to take over all the political institutions of California. California is going to be a Hispanic state and anyone who doesn’t like it should leave. If they [whites] don’t like Mexicans, they ought to go back to Europe.” That same year, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Obledo the Medal of Freedom.
|“California is going to be a Hispanic state and anyone who doesn’t like it should leave. If they [whites] don’t like Mexicans, they ought to go back to Europe.”|
The third major national Hispanic organization, also founded in 1968, has the most explicit name: National Council of La Raza (NCLA). La raza means “the race” in Spanish. Hispanic activists often use this term for Hispanics as a group, just as blacks call other blacks “brothers.” Like the other groups, NCLA promotes official recognition of Spanish, increased immigration, preferences for Hispanics, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.
La Raza was delighted when Alberto Gonzalez was appointed the nation’s first Hispanic attorney general, and held a reception for him in 2005. Janet Murguia, former executive vice chancellor for university relations at the University of Kansas, and president and CEO of La Raza, chaired the event, during which she announced, “We are going to put our people [Hispanics] first.”
Hispanics feel the demographic wind in their sails, and routinely boast about their increasing power. They take it for granted that it is only a matter of time before they push aside the old “Anglo” power structure.
Professor José Angel Gutierrez of the University of Texas explained his views to a Hispanic audience in 1995: “We have an aging white America. They are not making babies. They are dying. It’s a matter of time. The explosion is in our population. You must believe that you are entitled to govern … Se estan cagando cabrones de miedo! (They [whites] are sh****** in their pants with fear.) I love it!” In 2004, at a Latino Civil Rights Summit, he added, “We are the future of America. Unlike any prior generation, we now have a critical mass. We’re going to Latinize this country.”
Mike Hernandez of the Los Angeles City Council, echoed the same sentiments in1996: “Somos Mexicanos (we are Mexicans)! Mexico, some of us say, is the country this land used to belong to! … We are the future, we will lead the Western hemisphere!”
Armando Navarro, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, made a similar boast in1995: “[T]ime is on our side, as one people as one nation within a nation as the community that we are, the Chicano/Latino community of this nation. What that means is a transfer of power. It means control.”
“We are everywhere, and there is no occupation or activity in this country that escapes our influence,” says Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos. “This century is ours.” Aida Alvarez, who was head of the Small Business Administration for President Bill Clinton, campaigned for Al Gore against George Bush in 1999, proclaiming that “the 21st century will be a Latino century, no doubt about it.” “The long-anticipated Latino majority has arrived,” says David Hayes-Bautista, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture. “They [Hispanics] will be defining the American dream.”
What do Hispanics means when they talk about transfer of power, of the century belonging to them? Gloria Molina, Los Angeles County Supervisor, explained: “[W]e are politicizing every single one of those new [Hispanic] citizens that are becoming citizens of this country… And our vote is going to be important. But I gotta tell you that a lot of people are saying, ‘I’m going to go out there and vote because I want to pay them back.’”
It is jarring for whites to learn that immigrant groups may want “payback” from America.
Hispanics in power are not likely to “celebrate diversity” the way whites are encouraged to do. John Fernandez is a teacher at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles and spokesman for the Coalition for Chi-cano and Chicana Studies. He wants the staff and the curriculum to reflect the new Hispanic majority and nothing else: “Under the guise of diversity comes a disem-powerment of the Latino community. I don’t see how people unfamiliar with our language and culture and customs can deal with our problems.” His conclusion: “Educating for diversity is a crock.”
Behind this increasing talk of power and control is the indisputable fact that the Hispanic population is growing rapidly, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the population. Hispanics see sustained mass immigration as the key to eventual dominance, and many therefore fight desperately against any measure to control even illegal immigration.
These sentiments were clearly on display in the spring of 2006. In response to immigration-control measures voted in the US House of Representatives but rejected in the Senate, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators thronged the streets of American cities, demanding amnesty for illegal immigrants, and an end to border controls. A massive, multi-city demonstration on May 1 was dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants,” in which illegal workers were to walk off their jobs, proving by their absence how vital they are. Despite appeals from organizers that they refrain from doing so, many demonstrators carried Mexican or other Latin American flags. Tens of thousands of demonstrators were, themselves, in the country illegally, leading some observers to wonder whether there had ever been a precedent for open, mass demonstration by law-breakers against the laws they have themselves broken.
|It’s all year round in some places.|
Large numbers of Hispanics believe that the United States simply does not have the right to control its southern border, and that it is illegitimate even to try. Beginning in 2000, listeners to KROM, the leading Spanish-language radio station in San Antonio, Texas, began calling in to report where they had seen Border Patrol activity. The on-air hosts then broadcast the information so illegal immigrants and border-crossers could avoid those areas. They called agents limones verdes (green limes), because of their olive-green uniforms and the green stripe on their vehicles. Spanish-language stations in other cities have begun doing the same thing.
Even Hispanics whom one would expect to respect the law take the same position. Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), for example, does not like the word “amnesty” to describe legalization of illegal immigrants: “[T]here’s an implication that somehow you did something wrong and you need to be forgiven.” His seems to think that it is the border that is illegal, not crossing it without permission.
American cities with large Hispanic populations commonly refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. In 2006, for example, the predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles suburb of Maywood passed a unanimous resolution to prohibit its police from working with immigration authorities, and rejecting in advance any future federal law that might require such cooperation.
|Jim Gilchrist of the Minutemen …|
What perhaps best reveals the racial element of Hispanic activism, however, is the reaction to grassroots efforts to stop illegal immigration. The Minuteman Project was founded in 2004 by Californian Jim Gilchrist to help stop illegal border-crossing. In 2005, it gained national attention with “citizens’ border patrols,” which camped out at the border to report illegals. The Minutemen, as they called themselves, did not oppose legal immigrants — who are overwhelmingly non-white — and denounced racism. Their sole aim was to enforce current immigration laws, but Hispanic opponents invariably called them “racist.” The League of United Latin American Citizens, for example, defined the Minutemen on their web site as “racists, cowards, un-Americans (sic), vigilantes, domestic terrorists.”
Juan Maldonado, the Democratic Party Chairman of Hidalgo County, Texas, speaks in equally intemperate terms: “[T]he Minutemen are the epitome of hate, fear and ignorance. We are unified to stop this racist movement from entering our region.”
In October 2006, demonstrators rushed the stage and prevented founder Jim Gilchrist from speaking at Columbia University. They shouted down a black spokesman for the movement, Marvin Stewart, calling him a “black white supremacist.” As police began escorting people out of the auditorium, indicating that the event had been canceled, they began chanting “Si, se pudo. Si, se pudo. (Yes, we could.)”
Hispanics see their interests in openly racial terms, and think of their growing numbers and influence as a triumph for their race. This is why they call a racially neutral group like the Minutemen “racists” and “white supremacists.” This language reveals their own racial/ethnic chauvinism, not that of people who oppose illegal immigration.
The same reflexive racialism was behind a 2006 confrontation at Washington State University between John Streamas, a Hispanic assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies, and a white student named Dan Ryder. The two argued about illegal immigration, and Prof. Steamas called Mr. Ryder a “white shit-bag.” Mr. Ryder complained that someone who teaches in a department that stresses tolerance and diversity should not use such language. Prof. Streams was unapologetic, saying “I don’t care about the hurt feelings of one white person. The feelings of one little hurt white boy who’s got all his white-skinned privilege are nothing…” Prof. Steamas clearly saw an argument about immigration in racial terms.
|What perhaps best reveals the racial element of Hispanic activism is the reaction to grassroots efforts to stop illegal immigration.|
Some local authorities are desperate to do something about the overcrowding, loitering, and drain on social services often associated with an influx of illegal immigrants. Predictably, Hispanics attack such measures as “racism.” Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was among the first towns to pass an ordinance that would fine landlords or employers who rent to or hire illegal immigrants. Anna Arias, a Hispanic who served from 2003 to 2005 on the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, warned that the ordinance would make Hazleton “the first Nazi city in the country.” When other cities have debated similar ordinances, council meetings have been swamped with Hispanic activists making similar charges.
Many Hispanic voters, therefore, support candidates strictly on the basis of their position on Hispanic immigration. Many vote Democratic for other reasons as well, but some who would ordinarily support Republicans have threatened to abandon the party if it takes a stand against illegal immigration. Hispanic pastors have traditionally supported the GOP because of its position on abortion and same-sex marriage, but ethnic identity comes first. Rev. Danny de Leon is pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, considered the biggest bilingual Hispanic church in America. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Forget being a Republican. I want to go to the Democratic Party,’” he explained. “It’s a shame that one issue [immigration] has divided many of us that have been in the Republican Party for a long time.”
|… was shouted down at Columbia.|
Pastor Luciano Padilla, Jr. of the Bay Ridge Christian Center in Brooklyn used to take the Republican position on social issues, but turned against Republicans when they began to oppose illegal immigration and amnesty. “We will have to look at where we put our allegiance in the future,” he explained. Rev. Luis Cortes, Jr. is a Republican who founded the annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast that featured President George Bush every year from 2002 to 2006. His Philadelphia-based Esperanza USA claimed a national affiliate network of more than 10,000 churches. He, too, reconsidered his support for Republicans: “If voting is about personal interest, how are Hispanics to vote? They will vote against those guys [who oppose illegal immigration],” he said. The Republicans may be right about everything else, but what matters most to these men is the racial interest they have in bringing more people like themselves into the country.
Mexico and American Hispanics
The 30 million American residents of Mexican origin show considerable ambiguity about the United States. It will be recalled that according to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 18 percent think of themselves first and foremost as American. The rest show in a variety of ways where their loyalties lie.
|Cheering for Mexico.|
The most obvious and widespread way is by sending money outside the country. In 2005, American Hispanics sent an estimated $20 billion to Mexico, making immigrant remittances the second largest source of foreign exchange for Mexico, after oil imports and ahead of tourism. These remittances are so important to the economy that former Mexican president Vicente Fox called Mexicans living in the United States “national heroes.” In 2005, immigrants sent $12 billion to Central America and $22 billion to other South American countries, which means that immigrants sent approximately $55 billion out of the US economy.
A lot of this money goes straight to Mexican governments at various levels. In 2004, there were an estimated 500 Mexican federations or mutual aid societies in the United States that raised money for Mexican home towns or home states. That year, they helped fund 1,435 public works projects in 300 cities and towns. These included installing street lights, paving dirt roads, putting in sewers.
For states like Zacatecas that send a lot of workers to the United States, these citizen groups are a vital source of revenue. When the officers of the Federation of Zacatecas Clubs in North Texas were sworn in in 1997, Zacatecas Lt. Governor Jose Manual Maldonado Romero was on hand to encourage contributions. “You may be here, but your hearts, your blood, part of your spirit is over there with us,” he said.
Seventy-six percent of the population of Santa Ana, California, is Hispanic, and Mexican consul Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro encourages people from all parts of Mexico to form associations to send money home. In 2006, there were associations for at least the states of Michoacán, Sinaloa, and Nayarit. As Nayarit native Dely Delegado explained during a festival that attracted the state’s governor: “It was like Nayarit was here. We saw our people and our governor. They even had dancers doing the estampa, and you can’t find that in another state.”
Many Mexicans send more money home to Mexico than they spend in the United States. As John Herrara of the Latino Community Credit Union, which has five branches in North Carolina, explains, “[T]hese working-class folks are sending real money back home.”
These working-class Hispanics also happen to be the ethnic group least likely to have medical insurance, and to require treatment at public expense. Thirty-three percent of Hispanics are uninsured, vs. 11 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks. The majority of immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala lack medical insurance.
Many Americans question the priorities of people who regularly send money outside the United States rather than spend it here. They question the morals of people who then throw themselves on public charity when they go to the hospital. Curiously, the Federal Reserve Bank has established Directo a Mexico, a program in cooperation with the Mexican central bank, to make it easier and cheaper for Mexicans to send money home, regardless of their legal status.
| US government public
service ad in Spanish.
Mexicans show their deepest loyalties in other ways. Immigrants from other countries naturalize after an average of seven years of eligibility, but until recently, Mexicans waited an average of 21 years before renouncing Mexico and becoming American. “For many Mexican natives, it was like you’re giving up your life, your heritage, if you apply to become an American,” said Leonel Castillo, a federal commissioner of immigration and naturalization under President Jimmy Carter.
In 1998, however, Mexico eased the pain, and permitted its citizens to retain Mexican nationality even if they naturalize. Under the new regulations, Mexicans who had already lost their citizenship by naturalizing even had the right to reclaim it by applying at a Mexican consulate. One who took immediate advantage of this offer was 59-year-old Magdalena Flores Gonzalez. She had come to America 33 years earlier, had four children in the United States, and became a citizen in 1992. “We were born in Mexico,” she said, gesturing to others who were in line at the consulate to get their citizenship back. “This is all about going back to a reality, the reality that we are Mexicans.” Ericka Abraham Rodriguez felt the same way. For her, naturalization in 1991 was a betrayal. “When I gave up Mexican nationality, I felt like a lost person. You lose part of your roots, part of your history.” She, too, was glad to become Mexican again in law as well as spirit.
By 2006 nearly 100,000 US citizens had reclaimed Mexican nationality, in a gesture many would think gives the lie to their oath of naturalization, in which they swore “absolutely and entirely [to] renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty.” Since 1998, the vast majority of Mexicans who naturalized also retained Mexican citizenship, which suggests that their first act as an American citizen was perjury.
Spanish-language media encourage Hispanics to become US citizens — but not really become American. Early in 2007, newspapers and television joined church groups and Hispanic activists in a campaign called Ya Es Hora. ¡Ciuda-dania! (It’s time. Citizenship!) La Opinion, a Los Angeles newspaper, published full-page advertisements explaining how to apply for citizenship, and the Spanish-language network Univision’s KMEX television station in Los Angeles promoted citizenship workshops extensively on the air. A popular radio personality named Eddie Sotelo ran a call-in contest called “Who Wants to be a Citizen?” in which listeners could win prizes by answering questions from the citizenship exam: What are the three branches of the U.S. government? Who signs bills into law? What is the Fourth of July? Legal resident William Ramirez explained to a reporter why he wanted to become a citizen: “I can do better for my people. I can help with my vote.”
|Thalía: your fellow American and a “proud Mexican in heart and soul.”|
In January 2006, Mexican pop singer and actress Thalía (her real name is Ariadna Thalía Sodi) became a naturalized American but reassured her Mexican fans that she didn’t really mean it. Speaking in Spanish, she explained: “This morning I acquired United States citizenship. Nevertheless, under the laws of my country, Mexico, I can also have Mexican citizenship… Just like some of my Latino friends such as Salma Hayek, who is just as Mexican as I, and Gloria and Emilio Estefan, among others, I feel that this step will give me the opportunity to contribute to and support even more the Latin community in the United States. I am of Mexican nationality, and I will always be a proud Mexican in heart and soul.”
There are many like her, who remain Mexican in heart and soul, and some have surprising last names. George P. Bush, nephew of President George W. Bush is only half Mexican — his father, Florida governor Jeb Bush, married a Mexican-born woman — but when he campaigned for his uncle in 2000 he sounded altogether Hispanic. He appeared in a television ad in which he said, in fluent Spanish, “I’m a young Latino in the United States and very proud of my bloodline. I have an uncle that is running for president because he believes in the same thing: opportunity for everyone, for every Latino.”
At a Republican rally he again explained in Spanish that his mother had instilled in him the values of Cesar Chavez, who organized Mexican farm workers. “She told me we have to fight for our race, we have to find the leaders who represent us,” he said. About his uncle the candidate, he said, “This is a president who represents the diversity of our society, who we can count on to change the Republican Party to represent our views.” Needless to say, “our race” was la raza, and “our” views were those of Hispanics.
George P. Bush does not have dual citizenship — not yet, anyway — but some of those who do take what some might consider liberties. In 2003, four Americans living in the United States ran for at-large seats in the Mexican Congress. On July 6, Manuel de la Cruz of Norwalk, California, became the first American citizen to win a seat in the Congreso de la Union. The next year, 2004, he was elected to the legislature of the Mexican state of Zacatecas. When he was naturalized 33 years before that, the Los Angeles resident took the oath of allegiance. Each time he took his seat in a Mexican legislature, Mr. de la Cruz swore an oath of allegiance to Mexico.
|The Hispanic Martin Luther King.|
In the 2003 elections Jose Jacques Medina of Maywood, California, lost by just a few votes. Mr. Medina, who fled to the US in the 1970s because of alleged “political crimes,” said that if he had won a seat he would keep his home in Maywood. “I am Mexican,” he explained, “but I will always live in California, fighting for the emigrant Mexicans who live here.” Both he and Mr. de la Cruz favored giving Mexicans in the United States formal representation in the Mexican congress. After all, they argued, 20 percent of the country lives in el norte, and they need official representatives.
Because so many Mexicans living in the United States can vote in Mexican elections, politicians routinely cross the border to campaign. There was considerable discussion about making the United States a formal voting district for the presidential election in 2006, but Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez opposed the idea. He was not worried that Americans would be insulted if their country were treated like a Mexican province. He was afraid American authorities might use Mexican election day to identify and catch illegal immigrants who turned out to vote.
Other Mexicans show their loyalties in more visceral ways. On Feb. 15, 1998, the US and Mexican national soccer teams met at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The largely Hispanic crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Mexican. There were boos and catcalls during the National Anthem, and Hispanics threw beer and trash at the American players before and after the match. Anyone in the stands who supported the American team was hooted at, and some were punched or spat on. Hispanics sprayed beer and soda on a Mexican-American man who held a small American flag. The game could have been played in any American city with a large Hispanic population; the Mexican team would have had the home-field advantage.
|Finally going home.|
In another demonstration of loyalty, Hispanic legislators pushed through a bill in 2000 establishing Cesar Chavez Day as a state holiday in California. In 2001, the City Council of Dallas, Texas, nearly did away with Presidents Day to make room for Cesar Chavez Day, but in the end added the farm labor organi-zer’s name to Labor Day. Likewise in 2001, Hispanic legislators introduced a bill in the New Mexico legislature that would have officially changed the state’s name to Nuevo Mexico. When the bill was defeated in committee, sponsor Miguel Garcia said “covert racism” may explain the defeat. Congressman Joe Baca of California and other Hispanic congressmen have regularly introduced bills in the House that would make the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo an American national holiday. These bills have gone nowhere — so far.
Perhaps the quaintest sign of Mexican loyalty is the inextinguishable desire to go home some day, even if it’s in a box. When an illegal immigrant dies in the United States, their families nearly always manage to have the body shipped home, but even the majority of naturalized US citizens report that they want their final resting place to be Mexico. In 2002, more than 1,200 corpses left for Mexico from Los Angeles airport alone, despite the $1,500 fee funeral homes charged for shipping a body. As one Mexican farmer explained, emigrants “don’t want to lose their identity as a Mexican. What they want is to find a way back to be here, even if they come back dead.”
Part II will appear in the next issue.