News from the campaign trail has Latinos across America cringing.
It happens every time a scene like this splashes across the news: Protesters went plumb loco outside a Donald Trump rally in Albuquerque, N.M. Waving Mexican flags, they lobbed rocks at police, set fires, pushed aside barriers and generally acted like little hooligans.
The outburst was followed by the inevitable. Cable news talking heads, as they always do, wondered why the protesters were so angry.
Really? The United States is veering shockingly close to electing as president a man whose version of “making America great again” includes scapegoating some of the very people who helped make the country so incredible — Latino immigrants.
That’s the problem. That this has to be explained. And, no, this is not an excuse for the riotous behavior of a few.
Most Hispanics know such out-of-control displays of emotion will not help. Decapitating a Trump piñata might feel good — a symbolic display of cultural fury. But when it’s televised, such an act merely lends credibility to Trump’s innuendo that Latinos are interlopers intent on mayhem and criminality.
Nothing could be further from the truth — even for those who arrive here without all the legal paperwork. If you want to find someone willing to literally die to become an American, find a recent Latino immigrant. Talk to the Central Americans who risked their lives to cross through multiple countries, hoping to gain asylum in the U.S.
They can tell you about yearning for the dignity and freedoms America, privileges that so many third-, fourth- or nth-generation Americans take for granted.
Latinos have some of the highest rates of service in the U.S. military. They are highly entrepreneurial, creating businesses wherever they settle.
In a nation that so prides itself of being created from immigrant stock, an awful lot of Americans are naive about migration. Many of Trump’s supporters are unaware that their own forefathers did not arrive here with documents in hand, not like what is required now, a system that didn’t even exist until recent decades.
Nor did their ancestors instantly master English. Rather, they followed the same patterns of language assimilation that we observe among Latinos today. Adult immigrants rarely become proficient in English, but their children become bilingual. Following generations are monolingual — in English.
The process of assimilation is a blessing and a curse. It helps bind us together as a nation: one people from many sources. But as we lose our accents and the stigma of origins in another country, we tend to lose contact with a certain historical truth: Not everybody is welcomed in America. America might admit them for their cheap labor, but if these immigrants want to get a piece of the American dream they’re going to have to fight for it.
When you’re ignorant of what previous generations went through to become Americans, it’s easy to believe the sort of isolationist screeds that Trump preaches.
Following the New Mexico melee, Trump headed to the heavily Latino Anaheim, Calif., for another rally. The Los Angeles Times reported that warm-up speakers told stories about loved ones who had been murdered by immigrants not legally in the U.S. Trump followed up by leading his supporters in a chant of “Build that wall!” the Times reported.
Never mind that much of border control is better managed by drones and high-tech sensors and the dull monotony of paperwork. Also ignore the fact that so many of the workers who keep California’s agriculture and restaurant industry humming crossed that border at some point. Trump has a simple, effective message for the ignorant of America: Immigrants are murderers and rapists, and my wall will keep you safe from them.
By the week’s end, Trump had reached the threshold of enough delegates to clinch the GOP nomination. Latinos have taken notice. Reports from around the country are of an increase in Latino migrants moving from legal permanent residency to full U.S. citizenship. They are registering to vote. And many cite Trump’s obnoxious anti-immigrant slogans as the impetus.
Wouldn’t it be rich if these new Americans proved to be the voting bloc that shut Trump out of the White House?
These novice voters embody a truth: Donald Trump not only lacks presidential credentials; he fails to understand what makes America great. Latino immigrants do, and that’s why so many proudly become Americans.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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Photo: An anti-Trump demonstrator protests outside the venue where Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Anaheim, California U.S. May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake