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Commentary: 10 lessons for the native-born

SAN DIEGO -- There was a huge response to a column listing 10 ways for immigrants -- especially those from Mexico and Latin America -- to improve their relationship with the United States. The feedback was about 95 percent positive. That was true even among self-identified Latinos, both immigrants and the native-born.

A few of the non-Latinos gave me the Bill Cosby treatment -- applauding my lecture because it was given by someone of my ethnicity.

But by far the most interesting reaction was from dozens of readers who suggested that the advice -- don't feel entitled, don't play the victim, stress the value of education, etc. -- should not be limited to immigrants. The sermon, they said, should also be aimed at Americans, too many of whom have grown soft and have shed the values of their immigrant ancestors.

Great idea. I have no problem criticizing my own tribe -- my fellow native-born Americans. After all, it's the cohort I know best. Besides, the criticisms apply to me too. There are plenty of things I could learn from my Mexican immigrant grandfather, if only he were here to teach me. There are traps that I have to avoid, or buying too many things on credit. And let's just say I'm grateful I never had to put my work ethic up against his. It would have been no contest.

Americans can pay tribute to their immigrant ancestors, live up to their potential, and avoid getting passed up by the immigrants of today by adhering to some simple rules.

(1) Work hard, and teach your children to take summer and after-school jobs. Don't treat any kind of work as beneath you. Someone has to do it, and you're no better than they are.

(2) If you don't want Mexican immigrants to treat the United States like an enormous ATM, then resist the temptation to treat Mexico like a gigantic temp agency. Do your own chores.

(3) Learn a new language -- at any age. It's embarrassing that some cabdrivers, maids and dishwashers in Europe can speak more languages than MBAs, lawyers and engineers in the United States.

(4) Don't play the victim. Just because you didn't get into the university of your choice or get a promotion doesn't mean you can duck responsibility by blaming affirmative action or other forces.(5) Have dinner as a family every night. Studies show that conferring over the dinner table is a great way to keep your child's grades up and prevent drug and alcohol abuse later down the line.

(6) Get used to the "new normal" of not overspending. We already have too much stuff as it is, and what is of greatest value -- our health, family, etc. -- can't be obtained with a credit card.

(7) Raise your kids to be confident but not narcissistic. Our youth are intoxicated with cheap self-esteem, taught to believe that everyone in a race deserves a trophy just for showing up.

(8) Don't think of yourself as entitled to anything. Don't worry about what you think you deserve. Just concentrate on doing what is necessary to earn what you want.

(9) Immerse yourself in the "foreign" cultures of fellow Americans. You'll see there are similarities in what we think are differences. What we're going through, someone else went through.

(10) Take off your blinders and show empathy for foreigners, remembering that many of your forefathers were likewise despised and suffered discrimination, even if they came legally.

Living in this, the most diverse country in the world, means you're constantly exposed to cultural differences. This is a blessing, not a reason to panic.

But, when it comes to optimism, entrepreneurship, and hard work, it wouldn't hurt to try to keep up with recent immigrants. They might even help remind you how lucky you are, and what a special place this is.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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