After El Paso shooting, Mexican Americans can no longer be ambivalent minority

Mexican Americans think of ourselves as both an immigrant ethnic group and a racially oppressed minority. After El Paso, that is a luxury we can’t afford.


By: Ruben Navarrette Jr. , Opinion columnist\ USA Today

For many Mexican Americans, it’s a poignant scene. In the film “Selena,” Edward James Olmos plays Abraham Quintanilla Sr. — the father of the famous Tejano singer. In the scene, Quintanilla schools his children about the difficulty of belonging to two countries — and neither.

“We gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are. And we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are,” he says. “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans, and more American than the Americans. Both at the same time. It’s exhausting! Nobody knows how tough it is to be a Mexican American.”

It is tough. You have to speak perfect English or Americans think less of you. You also have to speak flawless Spanish or the Mexicans will label you a “pocho” — a watered-down Mexican. No matter what you do, you’re not going to please either side of the cultural divide.

And, over the past couple weeks, being Mexican American has been tougher than ever before.

On Aug. 3, when 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, drove at least 10 hours south to El Paso with intent to, as police told reporters, shoot as many Mexicans as possible, he did more than take the lives of 22 people and wound two dozen. Casius also upset the equilibrium that has helped define the Mexican-American experience in this country.

The Mexican-American experience

Let me introduce you to my tribe. There about 60 million Latinos in the United States, and nearly two-thirds of that population is Mexican or Mexican-American. Most of us are concentrated in just five states in the Southwest: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas. Along with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, those states form the occupied territory that used to belong to our southern neighbor before Manifest Destiny sparked the land grab better known as the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

Mexican Americans have been called the “ambivalent minority.” We can’t figure out whether we’re assimilated into the mainstream or apart from it. We’re thought of as both an immigrant ethnic group and a racially oppressed minority, and we think of ourselves both ways.

One minute, we’re following the assimilation pattern of earlier waves of Catholic immigrants who came from Italy or Ireland and, with every generation, inched closer to the American dream. The next,we’re competing with African Americans for affirmative action to gain admissions to a selective university and rolling our eyes at claims by whites that they’re suffering reverse discrimination.

The in-between

Mexican Americans want to be part of the immigrant story of those who come here with nothing and succeeded. But we also expect to be included in the civil rights narrative of pressuring the United States to live up to its billing as a place where “all men are created equal.”

Equality has long been a foreign concept to Mexican Americans. Historians have done an awful job of chronicling the abuse and violence endured by Mexican inhabitants of the Southwest, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Only in the past decade has there been a surge in books that expose this hidden history, including “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928” by William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb. In the 19th century, Mexican Americans were beaten and run off their property; in Texas and elsewhere, thousands were lynched. The World War II generation put up with segregated schools and being barred from public swimming pools, restaurants, barber shops and other establishments.

My parents’ generation was punished for speaking Spanish in school and later had to put up with ethnic profiling by police and job discrimination by employers.

In recent years, Mexican Americans have been in a safe space. Many of us think of violence as being a relic of the past.

After an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue, my Jewish friends told me they’re not surprised. After a white supremacist shot up a black church, my African-American friends said it was to be expected. But when a gunman left nearly 50 people dead or injured because they were Mexican or Mexican-American, my community is totally shocked to be in the crosshairs.

We never saw this coming. That’s because we’ve been hiding in the “in between.” We’re in between Mexico and the United States. We’re in between Spanish and English. We’re in between Mexican immigrants and fellow Americans.

On El Paso: Open season on Hispanics in America thanks to racist in chief Trump

And within the country’s color scheme, Mexican Americans are in between black and white. In the 1960s, the saying was: If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re black, stay back. And if you’re brown, stick around. The idea was that the country would accept Latinos as full participants in society, if we would just wait for our moment.

Well, we never got our moment. What we got instead, at a Walmart in West Texas, was mayhem and bloodshed and heartache.

Mexican Americans have been defined by ambivalence. But after what happened in El Paso, that is a luxury we can’t afford.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and host of the daily podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @RubenNavarrette


Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

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