On May one of this year (2006), millions of Hispanics, other immigrants and friends took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure for the treatment of immigrants as “illegals”. Why don’t we just say it like “it is”- the “illegal” moniker is an institutional method for dehumanizing folks, who only want to earn a living wage. That these mostly hard working and law abiding folks are criminals is patently absurd. What I found curious about the demonstrations is that the grandchildren of immigrants are the ones “taking the front line” in the fight for respect and dignity.

Older hispanics tend to be more moderate and less vocal. Examples are the differing reactions from Reggaeton rapper Yankee Daddy, a third generation Puerto Rican, and Jose Felicano, a senior citizen who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in the sixties. Feliciano said he would work the day of the demonstration because, “Like all Hispanics in America, I have to work to support my family”. He also said that if Hispanics want to advance in the U.S., they need to learn English. Yankee Daddy said that he would not take a million dollars to work on the day of demonstrating for immigrant unity.

My grandmother did not appreciate nor respect the “cultura Americana”, she always exclaimed that English was the “the devil’s tongue”. She and my grandfather did not come to the United States because of political or religious persecution. Nor did they come out of a love for freedom or democracy. They came because they were starving to death in Southern Spain and were offered free passage to Hawaii where they could survive cutting sugar cane. They improved their lot by moving to San Francisco. A home base for harvesting the agricultural bounty of Northern California

There was no need or motive for my grandparents to assimilate. They spent their lives in an enclave of farm workers and farm owners where Spanish was the only language necessary to get work. “El dolar habla en este Pais”, the dollar speaks in this country, was my grandmother’s response to our cajoling her for not learning English.

My parents had quite a different view of the United States. They learned the language. They could read, though writing was difficult. They went to American schools but were constantly moving. Seasonal harvests and my grandmother’s distrust of Americans eliminated any real opportunity of completing a formal education. But they grew up to be patriotic Americans who believed in the democratic system and a better life for me through education. They had every motive to assimilate.

As the only college graduate in my family, I lived out the American dream for my parents. How proud they were and how egotistically disdainful I was about my college graduation ceremony. I refused to attend out of ideological immaturity. A self centered rebel, busting my mother’s bubble of celebrating publicly her pride in me. The sacrifices they made were not sufficiently honored by me. I was angry at an America imposing its onerous will on Viet Nam and Central America while ignoring civil rights at home.

Unlike my assimilation driven parents, I yearned for my Spanish roots and the values of “mis abuelos” (grandparents). I was a “60’s radical” convinced that my parents had been foolishly sucked in by this hypocritical system that violated “our” cultural values. They did this out of a rational need to improve their lot. Only I had the luxury of a “socio-political-cultural” attitude.

A Mexican research group studied the changing attitudes of Hispanics from generation to generation and found that some buying habits changed. An example is a preference for Coke among first generation (Coke overwhelmingly controlled the market in Mexico) as opposed to Pepsi among younger Hispanics. But the overwhelming change had to do with an increase in ethnic pride and identification. The popularity of Latin music, dance and artists has greatly helped Hispanic pride: Selma Hayek, J. Lo, Ricky Martin, etc. etc.
For us old Hispanics we only had Anthony Quinn (Anglo name change) and Ricardo Montealban. It was not hip to be Hispanic pre 1960 but now it is hipper than hip to be Latino.

Young Mexican Americans are educated about the U.S. – Mexican War and in Mexico it is ingrained in the historical conscious of all her citizens. The Guadalupe agreement resulted in half of Mexico being ripped away in 1848 after a U.S. invasion that ended with the capture of “the halls of Montezuma,” Mexico City itself. The loss changed Mexico’s destiny and still tears at the country’s heart. Primary school textbooks harp on it. Intellectuals often refer to it. Museums are dedicated to it. General Ulysses S. Grant, who took part, called the invasion “the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

In the United States, some anti-immigration activists see migrants as a threat to American land and culture, part of a Spanish-speaking invasion that will reclaim the American Southwest. The concern is fed by Mexican references to the booming immigrant population as a “reconquista,” or re-conquest, and by the Mexican government’s efforts to reinforce the migrants’ ties to their homeland.

In covering the Los Angeles pro immigrant demonstration, Mexican television reporter Alberto Tinoco sounded almost giddy. “With all due respect to Uncle Sam, this shows that Los Angeles has never stopped being ours,” Tinoco said on the Televisa network’s nightly newscast. Mexican writers Elena Poniatowska and Carlos Fuentes have spoken of a “reconquista”. Poniatowska says Mexicans are recovering their lost lands “through migratory tactics.” Fuentes portrays it as a powerful northward thrust of the Spanish language that will enrich both nations.

It may not be on the minds of job-seeking migrants, but the memory of the Mexican-American war “is a very important issue in the bilateral relationship. And it’s always kind of floating around in the background … at the diplomatic levels,” said Ana Maria Salazar, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Despite the arrogance of U.S. congressmen, who feel they have a right to declare fourteen million hardworking Americans (Latinos are from the Americas) criminals. The Xenophobes will not prevail over history, geography and the need for cheap labor. The international worker will continue to enter the United States or we can all move back to where our ancestors came from. The only non criminal, the American Indian, will then re inherit the land once taken from him.

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