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Hispanic Dramas Play Out In 'New America'
by Georgie Anne Geyer
April 13, 2000
WASHINGTON -- Behind the clamor over Elian Gonzalez, a new development in American life has been gradually revealed. Certain Hispanic groups within our society are separating themselves from the mainstream in ways that will have considerable consequences for the future.
The main actors in this drama are, of course, the Miami Cubans and Cuban-Americans. When 20 elected officials in Miami-Dade declared recently that they would not allow their police to aid federal authorities in the Elian case, the drama intensified. Then, when The New York Times described the Miami region as "increasingly a nation apart," a city where Cuba's flag and not the U.S. flag flies, and where people greet one another with "Welcome to the Independent Republic of Miami," one could sense High Noon approaching.
"The truth is," New York Times correspondent Rick Bragg wrote, "many Cuban-Americans here say they do not mind if they are seen as a separate country. Not only do they not want to be part of middle America, they do not care very much what middle America thinks of them."
Nor is this "Elian drama," as engrossing as it has been (and as unsettled as it is, at least as of this writing), the only "Hispanic" drama going on in American life.
Despite an agreement hammered out between the federal government and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello on the future of Navy bombing practices on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , a tense standoff remains there between large groups of Puerto Ricans and the U.S. government. Even though Puerto Ricans are, of course, American citizens, tens of thousands have been marching for months against the use of the island for naval training that the Pentagon insists is crucial to American military readiness.
Critics have wondered, meanwhile, exactly where in this other drama there is a sense of loyalty to purely American needs. And even Puerto Ricans such as Washington's resident commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo has denounced the demonstrators, many of them led by religious leaders, as "separatists."
Among Hispanics in the Southwest, in particular among Mexican- American intellectuals in California and New Mexico, the idea of separatism -- backed by secession from the United States and the reconstitution of the Southwest as an independent Hispanic state -- is also alive and well.
Many people were shocked this winter when Charles Truxillo, a University of New Mexico Chicano studies professor, proposed the formation of a new, sovereign Hispanic nation called the "Republica del Norte," or the "Republic of the North." "It is an inevitability," he said, and it should be brought into being "by any means necessary."
While this is admittedly an extreme view, a large number of Mexican-American professors and Hispanic activists in the Southwest have at one time or another espoused such an idea.
All of this is why the clamor involving Elian and Miami is a bell tolling that there is a serious lack of "Americanization" going on here.
One reason these new developments are occurring is that, unlike earlier ethnic migrations to the United States, many Hispanic groups have their original homelands close by, and their loyalty remains largely there. Also to blame is the abysmal state of citizenship training, in which immigrants barely learn about the institutions or principles of the United States. Part of it is due to the present craze about bringing in ever more immigrants, even illegally, to "keep the economy soaring."
All of this has led, not surprisingly, to a situation where the Mexican government has passed laws by which Mexicans in the United States, and even Mexican-Americans, can vote dually in the U.S. and Mexico. Dual loyalties, historically so despised, have become fashionable.
Special privileges given to ethnic groups have encouraged them over the years to separate and to demand ever more from the center. For example, the Miami Cubans have been cosseted by the federal government. All in the original name of "anti-communism," the Cuban community in Florida has been awarded everything from special immigration laws to federally funded radios to broadcast to Cuba.
And so, as groups pull back into themselves, are we really dealing with "the nation" as an economy alone? Will separate groups, such as the Miami Cubans with Elian, have their own foreign policies? Is this all further proof that the very life is being drained out of the civic heart of the country? Instead of America's taking in oppressed groups, are these groups in truth absorbing us into their causes, languages and history?
This was a week to further ponder what this new "America" means.