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Misdirected Nationalism Nothing To Cheer


November 25, 2001
Copyright © 2001
THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Los americanos deben tener cuidado ante las voces de patriotas radicales que barren todo nuestro territorio y es necesario que comprendan que los Latinos no somos sus enemigos. De hecho, ni siquiera somos su problema.

He disfrutado y me he sentido abrumado por nuestro recién hallado sentido de unidad y orgullo patrio. Se exhiben banderas americanas por todas partes. A menudo me encuentro cantando mentalmente ''Dios Bendiga a América [God Bless America].'' Es una sensación maravillosa.

Mi gran sentimiento de unidad y orgullo nacional está siendo pisoteado por los neo-nativistas que están utilizando el ataque contra América para lanzar un nuevo movimiento hacia una identidad nacional.

Americans need to beware of the jingoistic voices sweeping across our landscape and need to understand that Latinos are not your enemies. In fact, we are not even your problem.

I have enjoyed and been overwhelmed by our newly found sense of national unity and pride. American flags are displayed everywhere. I often catch myself mentally singing ''God Bless America.'' It feels great.

But my great feeling of national unity and pride is being trampled upon by neo-nativists who are using the attack on America to launch a new movement toward a national identity. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with a national identity, so long as it remains collective. If it means one language, one culture, etc., as it does to some people, forget it.

This national identity movement is taking the form of being anti-immigrant--whether legal or illegal--anti-bilingualism, anti-multiculturalism. In effect, it's becoming an anti-Latino movement--and that, my fellow Americans, is wrong-headed.

A national identity movement, if there needs to be one, should try to identify and embrace those things that reflect the best in us as a nation, like the qualities and characteristics that are possessed by immigrants themselves. For example, Latino immigrants have the best work ethic in the world. Make that part of our national identity.

What if we had a system where the people who work the hardest and the longest hours made the most money? Latinos would be among the wealthiest people in America! The problem with America's work ethic is that the people who work the least make the most off the people who work the most and earn the least. Who wants that for a national identity?

Latinos who are native Spanish-speakers are eager to learn another language. There are not enough English-as-a-Second-Language programs to meet the need. How many of us have the drive or even the slightest desire to learn a second language? If the world's population were divided into three groups, there would be multilingual, bilingual and American. What's wrong with a little language sophistication as part of our national identity?

And what's wrong with a little multiculturalism? Isn't our national fabric capable of withstanding a little diversity? Why do people get so bent out of shape when they see Latinos driving around waving the flags of their ancestral homeland on special days? The Irish, Poles and other European groups do the same thing. Does that make them less American?

The day after the attack on America, all I could think of was calling home and asking my wife to hang our American flag. I was emotionally devastated by the terrorist attack and had no inkling of what the future would bring. I found solace in my faith; my faith in God that he would see us through, and my faith in America to rise again even bigger and better than before.

Not surprisingly, it has been my faith and sense of patriotism that have sustained me. While I am sure other groups feel the same, Latinos have always found strength in their religious faith and their American patriotism. Need I remind anyone that Latinos have always served with distinction in the military history of this country?

Thirty-nine Latinos have received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest level of recognition presented by the president of the United States.

Interestingly, several recipients were not even U.S. citizens! You don't have to be a citizen to serve America nor to die for rights that only citizens can exercise and enjoy. Latinos have always been willing to do that for America and Americans, and have done so proudly and with uncommon valor.

Throughout American history, Latinos have always been able to preserve our language, celebrate our culture, practice our customs, and observe our traditions. Granted, at times we have had to defend our rights in America in order to do so, but fighting those fights has only made us stronger and America better.

Since the time America came to us, Latinos have proved that we can be part of something bigger without diminishing our own individual and collective self-worth. We have added value to the collective worth of America by being who and what we are: Latino.

I'm all for a national identity, but it should not be inferior to the identity of other nations. America's identity should not be rooted in xenophobia and jingoism. It should reflect language sophistication, cultural diversity, racial tolerance, and a strong work ethnic.

Juan Andrade is president of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, a national organization based in Chicago. E-mail:

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