Growing up, my mom always told me I had to work twice as hard as everyone else. I should be the first one in and the last one out. I had to be perfect just to be equal. It wasn’t just about me; my actions represented my entire community, all 53 million of us.
It’s hard to argue with my mother’s thinking when politicians, the media and American society pen every action of an individual from a minority group on that entire group. When an undocumented immigrant kills an innocent American citizen, it's as though all 12 million undocumented immigrants had committed the crime. When a Black male teenager shoplifts from a store, the media turns all Black men into thugs. When a Jihadist commits an act of terror in the name of Islam is as though the crime had been committed by 1.6 billion Muslims, by 22% of the world’s population.
The GOP debate last week focused on national security and terrorism, or I should say it focused on national security and terrorism associated with minority groups. Not once did domestic acts of terror committed by White Americans come up. There was no mention of the shooting in Charleston, and no mention of the shooting in the Planned Parenthood clinic. As an American, I would also like to know how the presidential hopefuls plan to keep me safe from acts of domestic terror committed at the hands of non-minority Americans. The Democratic debate on Saturday did touch on those shootings and on the need for gun safety to be part of the national security conversation. However, the Democratic debate only brushed the surface on issues related to Black Lives Matter, immigration was not discussed at all, and I counted only one mention of "Hispanics".
My mother looked at America as a stranger’s house. We were guests; we had to be on our best behavior, we had to be helpful and thankful for anything we got. As I grew up though, I started to view America as my own house, one that my parents helped built with their hard work. I started to understand that the American land on which we lived belong to our ancestors. America wasn’t a stranger’s house, it was my house too.
Mexicans fought along side Anglo-settlers in the Alamo, only to find themselves second-class citizens once Texas won its independence. We stayed second-class citizens along with everyone else who wasn’t White after Texas became the 28th state of the United States in 1845. In 2015, we are still trying to prove that we belong, that America is our home too. White-Straight-Male-Protestant is still the standard in America, even as our country becomes more Black, more Brown, and more religiously diverse.
People tell me that I am a “good” Mexican immigrant, a good Latina, because I went to college, because I had a successful career on Wall Street, because I became a “productive member of society”. I am a desirable immigrant. They tell me that I am a great example of the types of immigrants the U.S. should welcome. We should welcome the engineers, the scientist, the smart ones. What they are really saying though is that we should welcome the immigrants that most closely meet the White-Straight-Male-Protestant standard of America.
As an aside, other people tell me that my professional and financial success is what makes me a bad immigrant, a “criminal”, because I was undocumented for over a decade and used forged documents.
But what about the Latinos, many of whom were born in America, that don’t go to college, that labor every single day but no matter how hard they work, they still can’t make ends meet? What about them? Does America not belong to them? What about the immigrants that work in the fields, take care for our children, that prepare our food? Are they less human, less deserving of America?
When a White man in Austin, Texas yelled, “she should just go back to Saudi Arabia where she came from,” at a young Palestinian-American born in Chicago, what he is really saying is that America only belongs to him, because he is a White man. I wonder if this same man looked at himself in the mirror, would he think that because Dylann Storm Roof killed nine innocent Americans, he might be a criminal too? No. Because when White Americans commit acts of terror it is not reflective of the entire White population in America, nor should it be. Just like the actions of a few should not reflect on an entire group of undocumented, Black, or Muslim Americans.
I want to be safe in my own country too. I want to know that I matter to the politicians who claim to want the best for America. Politicians on both side of the aisle have to recognize that American also means Hispanic, Black, Muslim, and undocumented.
After the latest debates the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates came to mind, “[they] tell us to be twice as good and shoot us no matter”.