We Belong Because We Belong

Again, on April 10, the human rights struggle for immigrants in this country made history—with concerted nation-wide marches, vigils, work stoppages, and other events that involved tens of thousands of people, including more than 500,000 in Washington DC.

Overall, these past few weeks have seen millions of people demand the basic rights and decent life that should be the lot of any person living and working in the United States, regardless of their immigrant status.

They have taken a stand against the second-class status that has been bestowed on close to 12 million people just because they don’t have proper documentation. With the passage of anti-immigrant HR 4437 last December in the House of Representatives, and an intense debate in the Senate with their own worse-and-worser versions of immigration bills, people are saying they must be heard.

Somehow the voices and interests of these leaders, activists and participants don’t seem to be on any of the congressional agendas. What do they want? They want a fair, adequate, and quick legalization process for any undocumented person (including full and unconditional amnesty for the 12 million undocumented among us). They want a fair and humane way for future migrants from Mexico, Central America, and other poor countries to contribute and become active in the economic, social, and cultural life of this country. And they want a livable and fair wage for their hard work—instead of the slave-wages they presently get.

What else? How about speaking their languages and honoring their traditions—and still become Americans. Everyone agrees that learning English, and understanding and abiding by federal and state laws, are important. Nobody is contesting that. But this doesn’t have to mean they should forget their original tongues, value systems, or spiritual practices (whatever they may be, since they are extremely diverse).

These demonstrators are saying they want to be “American” without having to homogenize into an Anglo/racist version of what a so-called American is supposed to be.

When people say assimilate (which is a natural process that nobody has to dictate), they also get the idea this means becoming “Anglo.” Who needs that? This isn’t even better than the cultures most people come from.

Sure if anyone want to be “Anglicized” (by the way, this is a misnomer—most Europeans in this country aren’t even from England) all power to them. But Latinos, Asians, other Europeans, Arabs, Africans, Indians, and more bring with them rich tongues, intelligences, traditions, and flavors. This is America—not the corny “white” people ideal that some people seem to think it is.

The fact is much of what makes “America” has roots in all cultures and traditions.

For example, we take cowboys for granted—some even call them the “American” archetype. Yet it was the Mexican vaqueros who served as model and teachers of the cowboy style and culture.

We say Rock and Roll is the quintessential US export, although it has roots in Africa (which is the main thread running through Jazz, Blues, Soul, and Hip Hop—all-American music if you ask me).

People here go crazy for martial arts (including the mixed-martial arts battles in the Ultimate Fighter), yet its roots are Asian.

And we use American English that includes thousands of words from Jewish/Hebrew, Irish (not Anglo), German, Russian, Asia, African, and other traditions.

I even read that there are around 300 words from the Nahuatl language (from the so-called Aztec people of Mexico), including avocado, tomato, jaguar, maize, taco, and chocolate.

Place names like Chicago, Minnesota, Miami, Wisconsin, Utah, Texas—I can go on and on—have origins in our Native peoples. Other names like Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Colorado, California, Florida, San Francisco (again there are too many to name here) have Spanish origins. Such great American cultures like Cajuns have roots in French, Spanish, Native, and African people.

Most South talk and accents are Scottish-Irish and African. Most of our original laws comes from Native (mostly from the Iroquis Confederacy), Greek, and British sources.

We can’t go by a day without saying or hearing okay, amigo, oy vey, putz, Toyota, geshundeit—all words from outside what’s considered “Anglo.”

From Mexicans/Chicanos, we can say that cholos, lowriders, and burritos are as American as Apple Pie.

As the demonstrators have been saying—We are America.

Yes, we can have a common language, common laws, common interests, and aims. But why do we have to give up our long-standing roots and traditions (they will change naturally anyway, has they have for hundreds of years)?

Already, we have a multi-tiered economy that brings more conflicts and suffering than any cultural differences we may have. Concentrating on changing that would be more important and meaningful than arguing about whether anyone is for hot dogs, enchiladas, or mofongo.

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