Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Not all Latinos are illegals

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Not all Latinos in the United States arrived here five minutes ago, says Ruben Navarrette.
Not all Latinos in the United States arrived here five minutes ago, says Ruben Navarrette.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Don't lump together Latino U.S. citizens with Latino illegal immigrants
  • Navarrette: Not all Latinos in the United States arrived here five minutes ago
  • He says many readers mistakenly thought he demanded respect for illegal immigrants
  • Navarrette: Some Latinos have been "American" longer than the descendents of Europeans

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego (CNN) -- In my CNN.com column last week, I wrote that the first thing a candidate running for office needs to know about Latino voters is that they value nothing more than respect.

Here's the second thing: It's not respectful to lump together Latino U.S. citizens with Latino illegal immigrants.

Not all Latinos in the United States arrived here five minutes ago. In fact, some of us come from families who have been here for five generations. And there are those in the state of New Mexico who can trace their roots in the Southwest back several hundred years.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

This message is not getting through. Just look at the comments posted at CNN.com in response to my column, which was about Latino citizens who can vote. Many readers thought that I was demanding respect for illegal immigrants who can't vote:

"How about the illegals start respecting our laws first off? Then we'll talk." -- ThirdeyeWO

"I will respect them once they stop stealing money and jobs from the US citizen...Anotherwords (sic) they need to go back to Mexico...Leave Now and you may get a little respect, until then you are the enemey (sic) of the american (sic) worker and taxpayer!!!!!" -- GopUSA

"I have zero respect for the arrogant, self centered, disrespectful display of illegal foreigners marching and yelling - in SPANISH - in the streets of MY COUNTRY demanding MY RIGHTS that they have not earned and are not entitled to!" - For

"Want respect? Earn it by obeying the laws of our country, even the immigration laws!" -- Robbery

In my e-mail in-box, there was more of the same:

"Respect is something one EARNS. The Latino voter needs to RESPECT this country and not use it as an ATM to send money to their families in Mexico. Latino voters need to speak and understand the ENGLISH language because that is how business is transacted. Latino voters need to respect the rules and laws in this country and not demand bilingual education and ballots and drivers manuals in Spanish..." - Pat P.

"Are you saying that because Latinos contribute to the economy, deserve respect and are family-centric, everything else doesn't matter, even if they are here illegally?...This is the issue I see coming up with some who advocate for illegal immigrants: a lack of respect for our country's laws...." -- Bill C.

"In response to your recent CNN articles, I am 100% against everything you stand for...I don't respect illegals, and I certainly want our president, weak as he may be, to continue to deport each and every illegal and every child of every illegal. Drivers licenses and tuition for illegals?!...You're in MY country. Adapt. If you want respect, adapt to OUR ways..." - Lawrence F.

I'm always amazed when I see comments like these. People are pretty worked up over the growth of the Latino community and the role that immigration played in fueling it. Many of them can talk your ear off about that. And yet, not many of them seem to know any flesh-and-blood Latinos. If they did, they would know how ridiculous it is to treat U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants as if they are one and the same. Besides, they seem to put a lot of stock in what it means to be an American. So shouldn't they be able to recognize Americans when they see them?

There is some good news, though. Some readers figured out the difference between U.S Latino citizens and illegal immigrants and tried to explain it to others:

"Just for the record, not every Latino in America is illegal. Please stop combining us with the minority that came here illegally. I'm sick of being told off for 'being illegal' just because I'm Hispanic. My family has been here since the 1600s thank you very much. Longer than most people's families that tell me to 'go back to Mexico.' Ironic isn't it?" - Iblink

Ah, yes. Go back to Mexico. In the 20 years that I've written about immigration, I've been told that hundreds of times. I don't suppose it has anything to do with being Mexican-American?

Apparently, I'm not the only one hearing it. Someone has even taken the experience and put it to music. The result is a profound and provocative song called "Somos Mas Americanos" from one of my favorite Mexican bands, Los Tigres del Norte. It goes like this:

"They have shouted at me a thousand times that I should go back to my country...Because there's no room for me here...

I want to remind the gringos: I didn't cross the border, the border crossed me...

And they can call me "invader." That's a very frequent mistake...

If we take into account centuries...even if it bothers our neighbors ...We are more American.. Than all of the gringos..."

Noting that "America" is actually made up of three continents and not just one, the lyrics declare that -- in reality -- Mexicans have been "Americans" longer than the descendants of European immigrants. In that sense, Mexican immigrants to the United States are more American than the folks trying to keep them out.

So there. If that sounds harsh, then so be it. A song like this is born of anger, frustration and righteous indignation. Imagine being treated like a second-class citizen on your own home turf.

It does get tiresome. I was born in the United States. The same goes for my parents, three grandparents, and half of my great-grandparents. And I'm supposed to "go back to Mexico"?

What? You mean on vacation? Great idea. Puerto Vallarta is lovely this time of year.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT