Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What does it mean to be "an American?"

I think its wonderful news from Beijing about Henry Cejudo winning the gold medal in freestyle wrestling. In case you haven't heard his story, his mother raised he and his six siblings in the US after coming here from Mexico as an undocumented migrant at the age of 14.

By Henry Cejudo's count, they moved at least 50 times. Sometimes they moved across state lines: California, New Mexico, Arizona. Sometimes they moved downstairs in the same apartment building.

Sometimes Henry's mom and his six siblings didn't even bother unpacking their bags.

Yet no matter where they were at the moment, no matter how many places they lived, Nelly Rico's message didn't change.

"My mom would always say, 'Whatever you want to do, you can do. You want to be an astronaut? You can be an astronaut. You want to be a doctor? You can be a doctor.'"

With tears streaming down his face following his victory Tuesday over Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the 121-pound freestyle wrestling final, Cejudo, Olympic gold medalist and U.S. citizen, said softly, "This is what I always wanted."

The 21-year-old son of illegal immigrants from Mexico pinched himself as he stood on the podium and the U.S. flag was raised during the national anthem. He had dreamed about this so many nights, he wanted to make sure the moment was real.

"I am living the American dream right now," Cejudo said.

But to the nativists in this country, Henry is what they call an anchor baby and their goal is to change the 14th Amendment (ratified in 1858) to the Constitution so that he would not be a US citizen. I don't know about you, but I'd say these folks are wrong and that Henry and his mother Nelly represent everything we want folks in this country to stand for. His words echo those of almost every generation of immigrants to this country - no matter their place of origin.

But its about more than that. I took a look over at freeperville to see what they are saying about all this. One comment stood out to me:

So, um, when the last WASP leaves L.A. - sometime in 2010, at the rate we're going - and Joe Arpaio is frog marched out of Phoenix in 2020 by Mestizo warriors - will you call the remaining people "Americans"? Simply because they managed to occupy the land?

If so, then is invasion just another civil right?

The ignorance in a statement like that is breathtaking, given that it was the United States that invaded and took land from Henry and Nelly's ancestors back in the 1840's during the Mexican-American War in our obsession with Manifest Destiny.

As the debate about immigration continues to brew in this country, I think its important for us to remember history and to think about how these lines on our maps were drawn. Lets at least be informed about who were the "invaders" and "occupiers."

Of course, its also important to remember people like Henry and Nelly.


  1. We made the nativists look really idiotic yesterday.

    Cheers and keep up the good pro-migrant blogging! Can I link to you? I am one of the bloggers on the Sanctuary.


  2. Thanks Prerna. And of course, feel free to link.

  3. Excellent work. The nativists reaction to Cejudo's win really shows how bad things have become in the U.S. Hopefully others picked up on it.


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