Our VoiceImmigration

Racist Email Distorts Patriotism

Jessica Acee • Apr 27, 2009

Hilary Clinton spent three hours in Lebanon Sunday morning and passed along a message of support saying, “You have been through too much and it is only right that you are given a chance to make your own decisions”. Lebanon’s upcoming elections in June could see Hezbollah winning a larger slice of the political pie.

Just two generations removed from the immigrant’s story and still my stomach is tied up over Lebanon’s upcoming elections. I have never even set foot on its soil but I have spent countless summer evenings listening to my grandmother and aunts talk about their home and what it meant for them to leave. And what it means to look back.

I follow the news, dream of someday visiting, and listen attentively whenever I hear Arabic in hopes that I might recognize a word. That I look back, two generations removed, does that make me less of an American?

I find it so ironic when people question the patriotism of Latinos forging their American identity. No one ever questions my patriotism because of my rich immigrant history. But when it comes to Latinos all bets are off the table.

I recently received an email about a supposed incident in CA where Latino students at Montebello High School put the Mexican flag above an upside down America flag on their schools flag pole. Here is an excerpt of the email’s text:

“I guess they already finished their English homework!!! The protesters at Montebello High School took the American flag off the school’s flag pole and hung it upside down while putting up the Mexican flag over it. Pass this along to every American citizen in your address books… If you choose to remain uninvolved, do not be amazed when you no longer have a nation to call your own.”

The problem with emails like this is that it takes one specific incident, distorts what occurred, and then uses that distortion to make broad general accusations about a whole group of people. The statement about English homework is a racist accusation that suggests falsely that the students are foreign (i.e. enemy) because they are Latino.

And does not finishing your English homework somehow make you a traitor or an enemy? If that is the case, then there are a lot of students in the United States, Latino or otherwise, who the government will have to make room for in Guantanamo.

What the author was trying to infer when they wrote “Pass this along to every American citizen in your address books . . .” is that just being Latino means you are somehow not a citizen. Citizens fly the flag upside down a lot. I don’t agree with it but it happens.

I’m thinking of white supremacist Randy Weaver, the Freeman in Montana, folks participating in the tea parties and others. When they do it, we don’t question their citizenship. Why is this group of students any different, simply because they are Latino? What do protests have to do with immigration? Protest is an American tradition that is protected in the bill of rights. Finally . . . yes this incident happened but not in the way that the email leads you to believe. No students of the high school actually participated in the protest.

It’s something uniquely American to really feel the transformation, struggle, and rebirth of starting anew in an unknown place. And that has been a part of our history from the beginning. The dichotomy of setting up life somewhere new, while wrestling with where you’ve been, does not end with the first generation born on foreign soil. It is something we carry within us, as immigrants, as descendants of immigrants, and most importantly, as Americans.

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