By Gilda Morales
Just when we as Americans of Mexican heritage think we have achieved the pinnacle of assimilation, when we are feeling super patriotic, and have almost forgotten the sting of previous acts of discrimination, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate throws cold—no, ice water in our face. Trump’s blatantly bigoted and racist comments about a judge with a Hispanic surname being “Mexican” even though he was born in Indiana, USA, snaps us back to reality. It was as though he used the word Mexican as an insult, something to be reviled.
My friend, Pam, will roll her eyes, as she has many times when I tell the story of racial discrimination that I experienced even in my lifetime, but which pales when compared with what the previous generations went through. Most people here in Van Horn, don’t remember that besides the existing schools, there was another school located just southwest of Desert and Ash Street. It was known as the “Mexican School,” which was supposedly used to segregate non-English speakers from English speakers who would attend Delaware Elementary, or the “red school.” Unfortunately, most of the students at the Mexican school, or Southward, could speak perfect English, and I clearly remember that I even knew my alphabet and could count to 100 as well as color inside the lines. As such, I was baffled as to why I had to spend my introduction to education at a school that was cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and where I would get splinters every time I played on the see-saw.
As I look back, I see the injustice of arbitrary segregation, the implication that if one didn’t speak English, one was inferior to those that did. And now, we have a presidential candidate who is implying that anyone with a Hispanic surname is somewhat inferior to other people. Forget that Mexican-Americans have fought bravely for this country, that we contribute everyday as doctors, teachers, lawyers, laborers and good people, what Trump did was to lump together anyone who has a Hispanic surname as a “rapist or drug dealer.”
Several of my friends have mused that if there were masses of blonde, blue-eyed undocumented people crossing the border, there would be no outrage and they would be welcomed with open arms. However, since the undocumented do not usually have the aforementioned physical characteristics, there is a visceral reaction to these “aliens.”
What Trump has callously done is to cause irreparable damage to the psyche of millions of Americans who don’t look like the characters in a Norman Rockwall portrait of 1950’s Americana. The message is that “real” Americans are Anglo-Saxon, of European descent, not from South of the border, or even black. One can ignore Trump’s remarks as those of a known bigot, but when throngs of his supporters echo his feelings, it is both disheartening and disconcerting that a new wave of racism has come to light, with him only verbalizing what millions have been thinking for years. Trump’s comments have also emboldened white supremacists to come out from under their rocks to spew their hate of anyone not of their race, a dangerous turn for a country that has always prided itself as a nation of immigrants.
So now the question becomes, what do we have to do to be considered real Americans? Is it generational, with pedigree papers dating to the Mayflower? Using that logic, Trump himself would not qualify since his parents were immigrants from Germany. Is it total assimilation with loss of cultural and language identity, with English-only winning over a rich tradition of hundreds of different languages and cultural customs that have made America unique?
As the United States becomes more and more diverse, we must be ever vigilant for pockets of fringe groups that spew hateful rhetoric and try to dictate or define what a real American is and what real American values are. Let’s figure out the answer over a nice pizza, enchiladas or eggrolls, with a Margarita or a glass of Guinness, before driving off in our Toyota, BMW or Fiat to El Paso, Waxahachie, or Baton Rouge!