Now that it has become quite apparent that Barack Obama will not select me has his presidential running mate, I realize that I will have a lot of free time on my hands. I’m not taking this political snub personally, B.O., because I understand that that’s how presidencies are won or lost. I don’t want to hold you back, B.O.! That will be my contribution to your presidential campaign. Trust me. My personal support for you is worth much more than my personal assets. That’s why I was kind of hoping I could be vice president. I could contribute a lot to this country as vice president, but since you have already chosen Joe Biden, I guess you’ll just have to make the best of the hand you were dealt–as will I. As election day rapidly approaches, I get this nagging sensation that John McCain won’t pick me as his running mate, either. I wish them both the best of luck with my name conspicuously missing from the slate. And, I am absolutely convinced that the independent candidate (Rafael Nadal?) doesn’t even know that I exist. Because of all the free time that I will now have from not hitting the campaign trail and pressing the flesh, I have decided to start playing chess again. Some students at UIC are starting a chess club and I am their faculty adviser. Perhaps our chess playing will help American interests at home and abroad. That’s the kind of guy I am! I always try to improve the world in my own little way!
Well, since I always talk about my name, let me get back to the name of David Rodríguez. Well, actually, David Diego Rodríguez. I bring it up again because I plan on going to Mexico in July with my sons. And every American citizen needs a U.S. Passport to return to the U.S.
So, I had to apply for passports for all three of my sons who are natural citizen by virtue of having been born in Chicago, Illinois. Two of the three passports were immediately processed by U.S. Department of State. The one for my son with my name caused a delay. Apparently, they needed more documentation for him. I guess there are just too many David Rodríguezes. He’s only 18, so he doesn’t have a credit history, a driver license, or a credit card. They needed more proof to verify his identity. I wasn’t sure what they wanted or what other documentation I could provide. One of the enclosures listed in the letter was a Supplemental Identification List, which they had forgotten to enclose. I sent everything I could think of, including photocopies of his state ID, his school ID, his W-2 forms, federal tax return, state tax return, a prescription label with his name and address. I was extremely relieved when they accepted the enclosed documentation. I finally received his passport yesterday. We’re all set to go to Mexico now.
I remember when I went to Mexico in 1978, things were so much different. I had forgotten how to speak Spanish. I still understood it, but I never had to speak it much in Chicago. I stayed in Mexico for about a month and so I quickly learned to speak Spanish again. However, when I returned to Chicago, I had trouble speaking English again. I flew back on Mexicana Airlines and when I was in Customs at O’Hare Airport the agent asked me for my proof of citizenship. All I had was my driver’s license and birth certificate. I gave them to him and then I worried that they wouldn’t let me go back to Chicago. You see, my driver’s license didn’t have a picture of me. Back then, they were printed on thin cardboard and only described the driver as 5’8″, 128 Lbs., BRN Hair, BRN Eyes. My birth certificate didn’t have much information on it either and my last name was misspelled as, “Rodriquez” with a “q” instead of “g.” (My mother never thought the mistake was important enough to correct when she received my birth certificate in the mail soon after I was born.) The agent looked at my documents carefully and asked me if I had anything to declare. I understood him perfectly, but I couldn’t form the words in English. I thought for sure that I would be detained by the authorities because I couldn’t make myself speak my fluent south side English. But miraculously, he let me through. I could then understand how there were so many illegal immigrants from many countries in the U.S.
When I went to Mexico last December, it was a little more difficult to enter Mexico. I handed my passport to the agent and he entered the information on a computer. He asked me some questions and when I answered them satisfactorily, he let me back into the U.S. Then about 60 miles into the U.S. there was another checkpoint where I had to present my passport again and answer some more questions. I think they mainly asked me the questions to see if I really spoke English to prove I was a U.S. citizen. The agent spoke quickly and slurred his words together as if to test my knowledge of English. Either that or he was just bored of his job and just going through the motions. He asked me where I was from. When I said Chicago, he asked, “Born and raised there?” “No. I was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.” I suppose that if someone didn’t speak English well, they wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions, raising suspicions. I was just glad that I didn’t have trouble speaking English this time.
Happy 231st Birthday, United States of America! On this national holiday, everyone will celebrate by picnicking, barbecuing, watching fireworks, and of course, setting off our own fireworks. We may worry about polluting our environment, but we get a special dispensation in order to celebrate our nation’s independence and blow things up. Try to stay out of the emergency room. Don’t get burned when barbecuing, don’t blow your fingers of with your fireworks, and most importantly, don’t overeat and raise your cholesterol level to astronomical heights.
During all these celebrations, take a moment to look around you. You will see Americans all around celebrating this special day. Some of them will be Mexicans, perhaps undocumented. I know we always forward to this day. Occasionally, we would have a family picnic on the Fourth of July. We would do all the traditional American activities, but we would barbecue carne asada, elotes, and tamales and have a piñata for the kids. We even played Lotería using beans for the markers. But we always celebrated the Fourth of July!
Last Sunday, I watched the Gold Cup soccer / fútbol match between the U.S. and Mexico. Okay, I have to admit that my allegiance was divided. Not only could I not decide which team to root for, Mexico or USA, but I was also switching channels so I could watch the White Sox play the Cubs. Talk about mental anguish! No matter which team won, USA or Mexico, I would feel some sort of disappointment. On the other hand, I wanted the White Sox to win since I am a south sider. The Cubs won. 😦 Sniff!
Well, team USA won, much to the disappointment of the Mexico fans who outnumbered the USA fans at Soldier Field. Almost three million households tuned in to watch the game. However, it was broadcast only on Univision, a Spanish-language station. Not enough Americans were interested in watching a soccer game. Ironically, a female announcer interviewed a flagged-draped American from the winning team and he spoke to the announcer in fluent Spanish! Doesn’t this send mixed signals to the general public about American culture? How do we deal with the English only issue when Americans are speaking languages other than English? At least we beat someone at their own game, that is, a non-American sport.
This reminds me of the immigration debate now before President Bush, the senate, and congress. No matter how many amendments are added to the bill, someone is disappointed, particularly the illegal immigrants who seek amnesty. There are too many issues to satisfy everyone. The immigration issue will not soon be resolved.
I have been called a lot of bad names and racial slurs in my lifetime, but the most hurtful insults come from people who are supposed to be close to me, who are supposed to be my friends. I believe I have been called all of the ethnic slurs for Mexicans, Hispanics, and Latinos. However, I was surprised that when I went to Mexico, I was called a gringo by my own cousins. That really hurt. I have even been called a racist by my cousins in Mexico.
I had spent most of my life thinking that I was a Mexican living in the U.S. of A. Most people often reminded me that I was a Mexican–either nicely or with an ethnic slur. But stranger’s comments don’t bother me as much as an insult from a loved one. However, when my cousins called me gringo, I was shocked and insulted. They were associating me with America, the very group from which I felt alienated at home. With an insult like that, I felt like I didn’t belong in either place. I still feel like an outsider to this day. I’m not really sure where I belong. No matter where I go, I always feel like an outsider.
Well, it’s all about imperialism. And Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. So what do they all have to do with Mexicans? Actually, it’s a long story that goes way back. I am often amazed by how events of thousands of years ago still affect us today. We should never forget the past because we are always repeating it! For example, history has a long, long history of repeating itself through imperialism and colonization. That is, one nation conquering another and then imposing their laws and culture upon the conquered (colonized) nation. Eventually,that empire is, in turn, conquered by another newer, bigger, “better” empire. So what does all this have to do with Mexicans in the United States? Actually, a lot!
On the one hand, Mexicans don’t physically resemble other European races or African-Americans. However, Mexicans assimilate into the work force without much rebelliousness or resentment. Mexicans come from a culture that has European roots. They come from a Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman culture, much like most citizens of the U.S. It all started when Spain arrived in the New World that was “New” to the Europeans, but not to the local inhabitants who had already lived there for thousands of years. It’s all a matter of perspective. The Spaniards mixed with all the indigenous people they met in the New World resulting in the fusion of races and cultures that still affects us today. The reason the Spaniards could create their own melting pot was because they had a history of thousands of years of mixing with other races. However, since Spain was also colonized many times throughout its own history by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors, among others, Spain merely applies the lessons they learned to the New World.
But let’s look at Spain’s name. The country’s official name of España is derived from the Phoenicians who arrived there about 1100 BC and saw rabbits. They named their new colony “i-saphan-im,” meaning “coast or island of the rabbits.” When the Greeks arrived about 500 BC, they called the tribes the met “iberos” after the Ebro River, hence Iberia. Being fond admirers of the Greeks, the Romans also colonized Spain beginning in 218 BC giving the region the name of “Hispania” because the Romans didn’t bother to learn the local language and couldn’t pronounce the Phoenician name. (Does this sound familiar?) It seems like local residents always hate when foreigners come and don’t bother learning the language.
But getting back to Mexicans, what does all this have to do with the U.S. today? Well, by analogy, Spaniards–and Europeans in general–have a lot in common with Mexicans when you look back far enough in history. For example, when the Spaniards came to the New World, not everyone wanted to leave Spain to make their fortune. But some of those who left Spain did make their fortune and sent money back home. And that occurred for generations, including other Europeans who came to what would eventually become the United States of America. And Mexicans are no different. Except for some Mexicans in America’s southwest who never left Mexico but somehow found themselves living in America when the U.S. took over the northern part of Mexico, some Mexicans want to come north to America to make their fortune. Those who do come have many goals such as improving the living conditions of their family, here and in Mexico. If we examine previous generations of European immigrants to the U.S., not everyone learned to speak English. Usually the first generation learned just enough English to get by, the second generation learned their native tongue at home and then English when they entered school, and most of the third generation only learned English. However, more Mexicans than other ethnic group seem to continue being bilingual due to the constant influx of Mexicans from Mexico who are actually related to them, and therefore, have an actual need for speaking Spanish.