OK, so it’s officially Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), and guess what, I happen to be Hispanic. Therefore, in some cases, I am the spokesperson for all things Hispanic, occasionally, but not always, among my white friends, who will ask questions about Hispanic cuisine (how to make tortillas, salsa, enchiladas and tacos), and if I speak Spanish, and/or could I help acquaintances hosting visitors from south of the border needing help with translation.
First, I am not in any way, shape or form an official representative of Hispanics, or anything vaguely related, but I have been subject to being stereotyped and mocked. Shocking. So, I fit in somewhere. Let’s start with being denied a prom date because my white girlfriend’s grandmother at the time said over her dead body would her granddaughter be allowed to attend the dance with a Spic.
Let’s hit the pause button and examine this for a moment. I’m officially American, born in this country, a certified passport carrying United States citizen. Insert requisite cornball phrase here, like God Bless America. Upon visiting Europe shortly after graduating college, this was confirmed by an Austrian citizen, sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who corrected me when I told him I was Mexican. He said, “So, you’re from Mexico? You’re not Mexican, you’re American… Get to the chawppaah!” He didn’t really say that last part.
Then, as a child, my mother wanted me and a few of my brothers to value “our” Hispanic culture more by becoming dancers wearing glittery sombreros and sequined black suits, disregarding that I felt totally out of place and out of character. I knew nothing about my ancestors, nor was Hispanic culture explained anywhere in the history books, in school or on my parents’ bookshelf. Oral history was severely watered down. As far as white neighbors were concerned, my ancestors were migrant workers. No, and not every white author, nor Mexican author for that matter, gets the story right. Top that with history being devalued and rewritten. Stereotypes live on. We all came to the land of milk and honey for our own personal reasons. Not all of us carried garden tools.
Sadly, we called the migrant workers “wetbacks” guilty ourselves of drawing a line. Some of us seemed better equipped to navigate the new world. The fresh arrivals crossed the Rio Grande into the land of the free, fresh out of a baptismal river, they were only wet behind the ears. They’re willing to learn. They seek an honest wage. They risk so much to be here. Why begrudge them a better life?
I learned a lesson the hard way. When we were kids, my brothers and I spied migrant workers out our front window walking down the street on our block. To my mother’s chagrin, we called them “dirty Mexicans.” Mom’s vehement response, “you are no different!” She was right. My family was the same. My parents were honest, hard-working laborers (dad a welder and mom a nurse), in hot pursuit of a better life, too. Like all Americans, they wanted rights like anyone else, opportunity, justice and happiness, and a better future for their children.
Let’s continue with my experiences. Over a lifetime, my skin color has been pointed out to me, as if I could forget. Most recently, I was asked why my name is Frank, and not Francisco, like other Hispanics. A few friends questioned how my wife and I met, but what they really meant to say was how is it that my wife is white. I find this strange because many of my relatives have lived for so long in Nebraska, they have found and married white spouses. When I attended a small faith-based university in California during the middle 80s for my Bachelor of Arts in English, and while strolling through a quiet white neighborhood, I was stopped by the local police for questioning, for no other reason than to be harassed like I didn’t belong. I didn’t think about it then, but the act amounted to racial profiling. Did the cop wonder for a second if I’d take his badge number?
Some of my classmates in high school and college had varying degrees of Hispanic blood. Some spoke fluent Spanish, and others Spanglish, yet others like me who spoke few Spanish words (mostly cuss words), sounded like a three-year old when we did. We referred to ourselves as coconuts or Oreos. The expressions, which I don’t believe I would have to spell out, refer to being brown on the outside, and white on the inside, and not my mental state. Though you would think after all my experiences, I might have become a little crazy and confused.
Fully indoctrinated, I fooled even my closest friends, who made such remarks as, “I always thought of you as white, not Mexican. You don’t act like them. You don’t even have the accent.” For the same reason, American descendants of European and Asians, after generations of living in the United States, do not have accents either.
Let us continue. Now, we have a resident of the White House (a peculiar name) that wants a wall along our southern border, and has affirmed a hard-line stance of rounding up undocumented residents (most of them brown and of Hispanic descent) to send them back from whence they came, though some of them, the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) kids, had little choice in the matter. If I learned nothing else about the Hispanic culture, family is everything, and breaking up a family is morally reprehensible, and in my religious views, a sin. Not to mention, doing so will cost billions in tax dollars, and scrapes against this nation’s principles. One nation under God, indivisible. Bring me your huddled masses yearning to be free. This policy and tack smacks of racism.
I can only think of my own life experiences to know this is true – that my white friends might secretly think they are better than me, though I have mastered American customs, and the English language, obviously. They’ll believe I don’t have the same rights. As I said earlier, I earned a degree in English – blood-sweat-and-tears style. I have fully assimilated, sacrificing the rich culture of my ancestors. I am guilty of turning my back on history, afraid of what I might have become, less successful, less valued. Though, the result of my hard work, degrees earned, including a Master’s in Education that allowed me to become one of the few Hispanic teachers I know that doesn’t teach Spanish, but English.
I also raised my hand to serve my country in the Army and because my last name implied full knowledge of the language, my first tour of duty just happened to be Panama. In case you don’t know, the primary language spoken there? You guessed it. Spanish. Yet, as a journalist, the only useful language to me there? English.
My fear is gestapo tactics will strip even me of my credentials no matter how American I might seem. I fear I’ll be told that because of my brown skin, I don’t belong. My fear is that others will buy into this craziness. My fear is they’ll believe the man in office, who says that I’m a criminal. Sadly, they’ll assume I’m a rapist, a murderer, a thief, somebody who is less than them because of my skin color. My fear is that if it came right down to opposing the new American order, they’d balk.
Who will protect me from the new rules of this administration? One law says police don’t have the right to ask about my immigration status, but if that changes, how should I reply? Or, should I grant them the satisfaction of replying at all?
You don’t have the right to question my patriotism. My citizenship has been bought with my loyalty, my service as a combat veteran, and my parents who labored in the same manner. No one has the right to question me. I belong to this country, and it to me. This is my home.
Don’t compromise my freedoms to satisfy your own fears.
I am American until my dying breath. Don’t forget that.