Sinking deeper in a bigotry pit he dug himself, Donald Trump persists in attacking the dignity of minority group citizens, implying they are less American because of their racial, ethnic, and/or religious origins.
Intentionally tapping into a pocket of intolerance, he began his campaign by insulting Mexico and Mexican-descent U.S. citizens.
Now, he relies on his anti-Mexico vilification whenever he wishes to incite equally narrow-minded supporters. For instance, he purposely referred to the U.S. district judge hearing cases against Trump University as a “Mexican.”
Expectedly, appalled politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly denounced him. They said that not only was the honorable judge doing his job, he was as “American” as they come. A major Republican leader called Mr. Trump’s remarks “textbook racism,” while another said it “spawned trickle-down racism.”
Clearly, Mr. Trump’s tirade defies all logic, since it’s aimed at the very core of the American Dream. That’s because the judge is a first-generation U.S. citizen of Mexican-descent who climbed the ladder of success through merit.
However, why is it that Mr. Trump and his followers express particular hatred toward Mexico and Mexican-descent citizens? Not intending to oversimplify a thorny issue, I believe it is lack of knowledge. As proof, during Mr. Trump’s characteristic campaign kick-off remarks, he recklessly accused Mexico of “sending” criminals to the U.S. Why would he make that specific charge?
For the record, the one and only time another country “sent” criminals to the U.S. was in 1980 when Cuba’s Fidel Castro emptied Cuban prisons as part of the Marielitos boat lift and shipped the miscreants mostly to the U.S. So, if that’s what he was referring to, he can’t tell the difference between Cuba and Mexico.
That brings us to the heart of the problem – the inclination by some citizens of Anglo Saxon and Northern European background to generalize. They treat Spanish-speaking citizens as foreigners or recent immigrants. Likewise, they find it difficult to figure out that Mexican-descent U.S. citizen doesn’t mean a citizen of Mexico.
Fortunately, the exasperating problem can be broken down to its basic elements by closely examining racial/ethnic labels that traditionally have been used (and misused) in U.S. society. Thus, the following discussion deals with the two terms in question – Mexican and American.
In its pure form, a “Mexican” is an inhabitant of Mexico. That’s why Mr. Trump is wrong for using it to assail the Indiana-born judge, who is of Mexican-descent; not a Mexican citizen.
Somberly, for residents of early Texas and the Southwest, the noble word “Mexican” lost its political designation in 1848 when the U.S. took the land from Mexico. Afterwards, it became a cultural identifier (Mexican-descent), similar to Louisiana’s French-descent citizens.
Now to “American.” Webster’s Dictionary primarily defines it as “Of or in America,” (meaning the continent). In truth, it’s precisely the misuse of “American” that provokes many Anglo-descent citizens to doubt the citizenship of people belonging to brown-skin minority groups.
In its main dictionary form, “American” doesn’t mean “U.S. citizen,” as implied in many catchy nationalistic phrases. To cite just one example, the popular phrase “Made in America” is incorrect. It should be “Made in the U.S.” Why? Consider the two basic points below.
First, the U.S. is not America, the U.S. is in America. Citizens of Mexico, Canada, and many other countries are also Americans. Plainly, there are 36 countries in mainland America. Counting island nations, the total increases to over 55. Everyone born and/or living from Northern Canada to the tip of Tierra del Fuego lives in America and is an American.
The second point is rooted in history. Back in the 1800s, Anglo-descent U.S. leaders selfishly took the names “America” and “Americans” to distinguish themselves from “Europeans.” How did that happen? The answer is the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, a product of pretentious pride.
In brief, the land-hungry U.S. expanded south and west of its original 13-colony boundaries. Eventual American mainland acquisitions include Louisiana (1803), Florida (1819-1821), the hostile takeover of Mexico’s northern sovereign land (1848), and Alaska (1857).
Flexing its imperialistic mood, the young U.S. brazenly tried to coerce European powers into believing that it now decided foreign policy in America. Through this document, the U.S. fired a “shot across the bow,” warning that the U.S. would interpret further European colonization in America as an act of aggression.
How did the American nations react? They treated the Monroe Doctrine as an annoying nuisance. Generally, they viewed it with suspicion, and had reason to do so.
On the one hand, the U.S. told its sister American Republics that it had issued the Monroe Doctrine to protect their independence from Europe. On the other, the U.S. seized Europe’s antagonistic role for itself.
In summary, two key features emerge from the above analysis. (l) Mr. Trump has taken bullying to a new level. Indeed, he meant his comments toward Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel (and New Mexico Republican Governor Susana Martínez) as racial slurs. (2) Far from being recent immigrants, many Mexican-descent citizens originating in the Southwest have a legacy that pre-dates 1776.
Incredibly, such blatant intolerance continues. (By the way, nowhere else is that more visible than in Texas, a state settled by Spanish Mexican pioneers and wrapped in Mexican symbolism.)
Sadly, the perception of Mexican-descent citizens by U.S. mainstream society is wrong in so many levels and has been thus for so many years. That’s because many of us have become submissive appeasers. Unwilling to make waves within mainstream society some shun speaking Spanish. Others avoid their unique heritage topic altogether, unaware that their silence enables the verbal attacks. Said another way, we are at best too lethargic in defending our founding heritage that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.
Hence, if you’re of Mexican-descent, have worked hard to fulfill your dreams, and assume Mr. Trump’s insults aren’t aimed at you, think again. It’s time to forcefully push back and get in the game. How?
(a) Start by not allowing Mr. Trump to decide who is “American” and who isn’t. (b) Teach your children of their natural right to be American by virtue of their Mestizo Native American ancestry. (c) Reclaim ownership of Texas history by visiting the Tejano Monument in Austin to learn of the true Spanish Mexican roots of Texas; and (d) Join a Texas State Hispanic (Tejano) Genealogy group nearest you.
Finally, it’s perfectly OK for mainstream U.S. citizens to keep calling themselves “Americans.” They should just remember one basic rule when judging others’ native origins – Mexicans, Mexican-descent U.S. citizens, and Canadians, et al, are Americans, too.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column pays tribute to Dr. Hector P. Garcia (1914-2000). In founding the American GI Forum, Dr. Garcia, a returning World War II veteran from South Texas, ensured that Spanish-surnamed U.S. veterans and citizens received the same constitutional guarantees and opportunities to fulfill their American Dream.