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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.

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

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