I’m not usually one for public tirades or rants, but I felt a deep personal desire to address the racially charged comments directed at Sebastian de la Cruz, an 11-year-old Mexican-American boy, for singing the United States National Anthem. Those of you who know me may feel that my personal bias regarding Mexican-American relations will sway my perspective, to which I reply that I believe my bias is based on a deeper rooted principle that should be universally applied and accepted.
These comments are not directed at those who are racist in the simple sense. For if you still believe there should be a correlation between race and equality at this stage in human history, you’re not worth the extra wear on my keyboard and I believe the trend of history will naturally cull you from the herd. Instead, these comments are for those who conceive, or rather misconceive, that belonging to the United States is like that of an overpriced country club membership: only available to a select privileged few. I speak to those who, even after some consideration and weighing of the issues, have still developed a false premise that there is connection to race and ethnicity with what it means to be American.
First of all Sebastian, from one citizen to another, I would like to congratulate you and say, bravo! Your performance was well done and your courage in the face of such an attack is admirable for a person of your age. Let this experience not embitter you, but instead strengthen your integrity and moral character. As Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
First, a Side Note
Before addressing the more important matter of race and “Americanism,” I think it is important to make a few comments, perhaps trivial to some, that may not have been considered by the illiterate and uneducated authors of such racial statements. First, singing is hard. Public speaking is terrifying. Flawlessly singing before tens of thousands of captivated people and millions more on television is awesome. The national anthem is a symbol of America’s pride and represents the unity of its people. The singer of such an anthem is faced with the physical limitations of the human voice, and as we have seen with Sebastian’s case, the emotional and intellectual challenges of performing before an audience. Any citizen who has the bravery to attempt and successfully accomplish such an effort, should be honored. Those of you who would not or could not do the same, have no justifiable position for criticism.
Ignorance is Far from Bliss
I believe that many of the comments directed at Sebastian are a result of general ignorance, both of the true American ideals and the history which generated such ideals. When a person is conscious of a cause, they can understand the effect. Without knowledge of a causal root, what we see and hear is unclear and sometimes awkward. When confronted with an unexpected circumstance, a lack of understanding of how that circumstance arose usually results in one of three possible outcomes: 1. the person fills in the gaps with their own thoughts, assumptions, or ideas, generally leading to a misunderstanding; 2. they examine the circumstance and come with a fairly accurate hypothesis or conclusion based on scientific investigation; or 3. they ignore the matter altogether and make no intellectual or emotional investment. Option 3 is a rarely chosen path because of how emotionally charged the subject of race is. Although people generally avoid the topic of race in discussion, that does not mean they have strong feelings about it.
I believe most of the people who made racial comments towards Sebastian fall into category 1. The commentators could not grasp the idea of a Mexican claiming to be American and failed to challenge their existing beliefs through external reflection and investigation. The imagery of Sebastian singing the national anthem caused some viewers to have an internal reaction. This reaction was caused when what they were seeing generated a conflict with their current belief structure. Rather than reading the queue given by Sebastian prompting the viewers to ask themselves, “What does it mean to be American?” some either jumped to a conclusion without much thought or convinced themselves that they already knew the answer and came to a conclusion based on their own internal reasoning. One simple logical path could be that Americans are from the United States, Mexicans are from México, and therefore Mexicans can’t be American. Regardless of the fact that there are clear holes in this argument, many people used it as grounds for their comments.
The inability for a person to examine their own thoughts and decision making processes is a crucial component of healthy development. A component the educational system and parents often fail to deliver and therefore we continue to produce human beings incapable of self-reflection and self-improvement. This is a topic for another discussion, but it is important to be conscious that such a process of self-control does exist. I believe that simply asking yourself, “Why do I believe that?” or, “How did I get to that conclusion?” and scrutinizing the answer before you commit to a response can greatly increase your mental health.
America the Ideal
I do not claim to be an American history scholar or even knowledgeable on the important aspects of American history. I do however feel that there are certain concepts that have crossed my path which have enlightened my approach to America’s guiding principles that perhaps others have not had the privilege to encounter. Hopefully what I have to say rings true to some and can bear some light on new ideas for others.
America is both a geographic reference, but more importantly, an idea. It is impossible to disconnect the idea and intention of America from its history, but the idea precedes the history. Just as the intention to go on vacation precedes the booking of travel arrangements and the travel itself. The history and events are the result of the initial intent. Originally, the term “America” referred not only to the United States, but to all the countries of North, Central, and South…America. As implied in the declaration of Independence and explicitly stated in the Monroe Doctrine, the core principle across the Americas was a unified Western hemisphere of governments free from European monarchical and oligarchical influences. The United States is often referred to as America because of its fight and triumphs in that direction, but it is not historically accurate. However, to keep with popular jargon, we will use the terms “America” and “United States” interchangeably.
So, what was the intent of America? I doubt the answer to that question will ever come to a consensus, but I will give my perspective. Because one nation cannot, without force or political intervention, secure the human rights of others in another nation, a status must be created to secure those rights internally. This we call a “citizen.” The government is not designed to rule the people, as a monarch would its subjects, but rather is “constituted” to ensure the freedom, equality, and right to justice for all its citizens. The core of the American identity is one of inclusion, not exclusion. It is a nation built upon a collage of principles, values, morals, and rights that are true for every man and are disassociated with the race, gender, or creed of any one man. From a purely logical standpoint, it could be stated that anyone with the status of “citizen” is entitled to all the rights of a citizen, regardless of race. As a citizen of the United States, you belong to a nation whose government has committed itself to guarantee access to these human rights. One citizen is not entitled to more or less rights than any other citizen. They are both equal in their “Americanality,” meaning one is not more American than the other. The process of how one becomes a citizen is a highly sensitive debate which I will not initiate here.
America and Race
Many would say that America has always been a nation grappling with the ideas of race and equality. I would argue rather that human civilization as a whole has yet to close the chapter on racial equality. This event with Sebastian has taught us that we still have work to do. We are still dealing with the lingering effects of unfounded philosophies and unintellectual concepts about race developed ages ago. These philosophies and concepts were not born in America, but it is my hope that they will die here. America has a very unique disposition when compared with most other nations. It has been called a “melting pot nation” and other such descriptions have eluded to the wide variety of people that make up its citizenry. This comes from a rich history of immigration and those that attack Sebastian in essence are denying the history of the very nation they claim to be protecting.
We’re All Immigrants
America is a country built by immigrants with different backgrounds and socioeconomic status. There are no truly “pure Americans” from a racial or even religious perspective. These measures are contrary to the purpose. There are those that would argue that the Native American tribes are the only true Americans. But, all historic controversy aside, their initial and continued lack of desire to participate in the organization and betterment of the American nation is not debatable. Therefore, they are native to the land, but not to the idea of the American nation and its government. An American is one who embodies the principles laid forth in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Those who claim Sebastian is not American because his family was not born here deny the very purpose of America. There is a reason why, although the United States is a young nation, it has the longest living Constitution. That is because it is based on ubiquitous principles, not a set of arbitrary rules and regulations. We are a country that strives to develop a population of like-minded citizens, that agree upon and will defend the most basic human rights. Your ethnic background is irrelevant, but in my opinion contributory, to that ideal. America is a nation of ideals and designed to include all its people, high and low. So, for those of you that would act as another Bull Connor, I ask that you first become versed in the universal laws that govern this nation and there you might discover the path towards acceptance and inclusion. For, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”