viernes, mayo 16, 2008

The dangerous "M" Word

Cesar Fernando Zapata

FORT MYERS, Florida — Mr. Manfred Rosenow is an immigration lawyer who writes for the Miami El Nuevo Herald newspaper. He is well-known, not only on "the other" coast, but nationwide.

I read his column once in a while, and one of the things I have found most interesting, is how Mr. Rosenow spends space and ink to "scold" (sometimes half-joking) some of his readers.

One of the common reasons for this is if someone makes the mistake to start his or her letter like this: "I am a Cuban (or Colombian, or Venezuelan), who naturalized as American citizen"...

Mr. Rosenow immediately scolds the reader: "If you became an American citizen, you already sworn allegiance to your new country", he says more or less. "You stopped being Cuban (or Colombian, or Mexican) once you naturalized as a U.S. citizen".

I can't (nor want) to argue with Mr. Rosenow in a subject where he is an expert and I am so ignorant about. Besides, I perfectly understand his perspective. The law is very clear.

But I also understand why immigrants' minds slip so much sometimes on this cases, especially the elderly.

Despite the good wishes from people like Mr. Rosenow, the force of habit weighs more than any naturalization certificate, for better or worse.

For example, more than once I have seen how American-born-and-raised citizens —with ancestors who have lived in this country for many generations— are treated as "aliens".

Specifically, Hispanic-Americans.

It doesn't matter how "Americans" they are or feel, nor how perfect English they speak: For the average "Gringo", they'll always be "Mexicans".

It doesn't matter if the great-great-great-grandparents of these Americans arrived to Texas, California, Arizona or New Mexico decades before the Mayflower pilgrims left England: For the rest of the country, these people will always be "foreigners".

(Some extremists even accuse them of harboring "dubious loyalties", like the ignorant guy who once tried to justify his racist remarks by saying: "Blood calls".)

To offset this situation, some Hispanics struggle to behave more American than Americans themselves, and even dare to (wrongly) despise people from Latin America, as if they want to prove they are not "the same"... although they look identical

Even so, there will always be someone who will shout in their faces: "Go back to your country" and "leave America for Americans".

It doesn't matter what we do or not, we'll always be "Mexicans" (or "Cubans", or "Colombians", or even "Puerto Ricans").

Now, if we Hispanics accept those labels and embrace our "Hispanism" proudly, and stop naming ourselves plain "Americans" to become "Mexican-Americans", or "Cuban-Americans", as they always are calling us... then things will get worse.

Because extremists will tell us: "Aha! You see? This proves you don't want to assimilate, nor you want to become 'Real Americans'!"

In this sense, the word "Mexican" is a little like the terrible "N" word, used in the past to insult African-Americans.

African-Americans can use the "N" word among themselves without problems. But if an Anglo uses it, he'll be considered racist and offensive.

But with Hispanics happens the opposite: The "M" ("Mexican") word can only be used by "Gringos" who refer to Hispanics. But if we Hispanics dare to use it, we'll be immediately accused of being "traitors" and "not American enough".

No matter if historically we are more Americans than them.

As the old Spanish saying goes: "Whatever you do or not makes no difference: Your name will always be Juan". (

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