This bad election ended with some good news.
No, not the outcome of the presidential race. Given everything we’ve learned about the major candidates in recent months, these two people should not have been sharing a ballot. They should be sharing a cell.
At its worst moments, this election revealed chasms in our society that are likely to endure – between urban and rural America, between Latinos in the Southwest and working-class whites in the Rust Belt, between snobby elites and everyday Americans, and between an unabashedly liberal media and those conservatives who somehow found humor in T-shirts declaring: “Rope. Tree. Journalists. Some Assembly Required.”
When I say good news, I’m referring to an email I received from a reader. He was angry over a column I’d written about how the media and the political system failed Latino voters. What bothered him was the phrase “Latino voters” and the suggestion that people of a given ethnicity might vote a certain way.
The poor guy will likely be traumatized by the dozens of stories in the coming days about the large footprint that Latino voters – there I go again – left on this election.
As the reader put it: “Hate to disillusion you, but Latinos are considered white by many. You are the ones that refer to yourselves as brownies.”
I come from a predominantly Mexican American family, and I have never heard anyone call himself a “brownie.” In fact, our family has only one Brownie. But in a couple of years, my 7-year-old daughter will be a Girl Scout.
The reader’s complaint reminds me of another note I got years ago that went something like this: “Look here, Mexican, you need to act like an American!”
It’s always been this way in our country. We can’t make up our minds whether we want those who are different to be like us so we feel comfortable, or to stay different so we feel superior.
The reader’s email went on: “Personally I think it is time for you to consider yourselves Americans as that is what you are. You most probably did not make the choice to become American, your forefathers did that.”
Yes and no.
Three of my four grandparents were born in Texas, so they were Americans at birth. The fourth – my dad’s father – was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. And he came to the United States as a boy around 1910, during the Mexican Revolution. He came legally – because, technically, one couldn’t come illegally until after the Immigration Act of 1924.
Finally, the reader said this: “This country is one out of many, and we are one. We as a country have to start respecting one another and think of ourselves as one people united.”
Fine. But Latinos aren’t saying otherwise.
Fifty-four million Americans – who serve in the military, work as police officers and firefighters and help drive the U.S. economy by filling jobs, starting businesses and hiring workers – have no trouble considering ourselves Americans. We’re not the ones marginalizing ourselves or putting obstacles in our own path. That’s the handiwork of demagogic politicians who think they can scare up votes by painting Latinos as committing crimes, stealing jobs, taking welfare, changing the culture and otherwise ruining the good thing that white Americans had going.
Besides, I wish this reader had been around when my parents were putting up with overt discrimination and limited opportunities while they were growing up in the 1940s. They could have used his uplifting rhetoric about how Americans need to respect one another and how we are all “one people united.”
Which brings me to what should be at the top of the list of Latino “asks” from the new president.
And you had better believe there will be asks. Latino voters were the breakout stars of this election. They made their voices heard in five crucial battleground states – Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
Here’s what Latinos should get in return: an acknowledgment that they have paid their dues and earned their rightful place in the American mainstream. A population whose roots in this country go back more than 400 years and boasts the greatest ratio of Medal of Honor recipients should no longer be treated as a separate category of voters, as if they were some foreign virus infecting the country’s bloodstream.
Write this down, and don’t get it twisted: Latinos are not a foreign anything. We aren’t infecting America. We are America.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.