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Ruben Navarrette: Latinos have earned what they crave most: respect

Summary: Whether native-born or naturalized, U.S. Latinos have earned full citizenship. And ready or not, we're claiming it.

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Ruben Navarrette commentary

SAN DIEGO — This New Year, instead of a resolution, I'd like to make a request — of America.

Mind you, it's not for me. Well, it's not only for me. This "ask" is on behalf of the nation's 62 million Latinos , who represent 18% of the U.S. population.

As a Mexican American , I'm in the club. Although I'm not always a member in good standing, depending on the opinion of the week.

Latinos have earned the right to make a few demands. We've served in the U.S. military in every major conflict from Kabul all the way back to Yorktown. Gracias to Captain Jorge Farragut, and his son David, who left Spain to help the colonists fight the British). We've received more than our share of medals for valor, but we've also lost a disproportionate number of our best and bravest young men and women.

Latinos have paid a mountain of taxes, started scores of businesses, and employed millions of workers. We've cooked meals, cleaned houses, built roads, tarred roofs, swung hammers, dug ditches, picked peaches, and done just about every dirty job other Americans wouldn't do.

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I don't speak for the members of my tribe. But I do try to listen closely when they speak to me.

Here's what I've heard in the last two years — roughly the same amount of time that Americans have suffered under COVID's version of Groundhog Day, where the "new normal" is that nothing will ever again be normal.

First, while Latinos are often lumped together with African Americans because both are non-white, we are more like the Irish and Italian immigrants who crossed the Atlantic in the 18th and 19th centuries. Like our fellow Catholics, we were greeted by nativists with clenched fists. Yet unlike the Irish and Italians, Mexican Americans didn't have to cross an ocean — or even a river — to get here. The border crossed us as part of the mid-19th century western land grab known as Manifest Destiny.

Two, a lot of us feel unsatisfied with America 's never-ending conversation about race. The fact that most Latinos are neither Black nor White allows us to see more clearly America's great divide. But that doesn't mean we have to choose to identify with Black or White Americans.

Both groups play the "victim" card. Many Black Americans feel targeted by systemic racism, police violence, job discrimination and white privilege. Many White Americans are sure they're being hurt by immigration, racial preferences, multiculturalism, and "reverse discrimination."

Most Latinos don't play that game.

A friend recently asked me the strangest question. He was curious what Mexican Americans would consider fair compensation for themselves, and Mexico, given that the U.S. military seized half its neighbor's territory in the U.S.-Mexican War. The stolen land became eight states.

"How much are Mexican Americans due in reparations?" my friend asked.

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"Zero," I responded. "We would never even conceive of it. We don't think that way."

And three, while skittish White conservatives worry that critical race theory is really a secret plot to tear down America or transform it into something totally different, let me assure you that Latinos want no such thing.

We don't want to destroy America. We just want to be part of it. Or rather, we'd like some acknowledgment of the fact that we've always been part of it.

It's the same "ask" we've made since 1945, when heroic Latino GIs returned home from Europe and the Pacific after the end of World War II. Soldiers and sailors came back to small towns in Texas and Arizona to find that they still couldn't use the public swimming pool except on Fridays because the pool was drained on Saturdays, that they couldn't watch a film in a movie house from anywhere but the balcony, and that they couldn't eat in restaurants with signs that read "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed."

Latinos want to be seen, respected and accepted as full-blooded Americans. It's a bizarre and frustrating thing to have roots that go back five or six generations in this country — Santa Fe, New Mexico, was founded in 1609, St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 — and still be treated as "the other" with your loyalties constantly questioned.

We want what most Americans want. We want to be left alone, allowed to work in order to provide for our families, and raise our children to believe in both the American Dream and their ability to make it a reality.

Whether native-born or naturalized, U.S. Latinos have earned full citizenship. And ready or not, we're claiming it.

Navarrette's email address is crimscribe@icloud.com . His podcast, "Ruben in the Center," is available through every podcast app.

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Ruben Navarrette can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.
© 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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