A Journey Across Our America: This land is your and mine - Part I

By Louis Mendoza, Department of Chicano Studies, University of Minnesota

It is clear from the mainstream media’s coverage on immigration that this topic strikes a chord with people from all walks of life, all political perspectives, all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In an editorial I wrote for La Prensa de Minnesota last year immediately following the huge pro-immigrant marches held around the country, I noted with dismay that Latinos are once again having to prove that we belong here. Conspicuously absent in debates on immigration by the pundits, the politicians and the populous is an understanding of historical relationship of Latinos to this land and the causes of contemporary immigration that are a direct consequence of our failed foreign policy.

Part of this denial of our national heritage is the denial of the history of colonialism that this country was built upon: first in decimating and displacing the indigenous peoples of the continent and secondly in denying that the Latino presence in North American precedes the establishment of the U.S.; we have been here for centuries shaping, building, and contributing in myriad ways to this country. Debates have reached such fervor now that a bedrock principle of the US, birthright citizenship, is in danger of being discarded.

Much of the hysteria around unsuccessful immigration reform revolved around enforcement, resistance to what is being labeled as amnesty, and making sure that strong provisions are in place to ensure that Latinos culturally integrate into society as quickly as possible. If you listened only to the media and politicians you would think that all recent Latino immigrants do is drain the social service and educational systems even as they go out of their way to “steal? jobs and live in isolation from the mainstream.

Most of these claims are overblown and don’t withstand scrutiny. I believe we have to search out ways to discover the truth about this nation, about our past as well as our future. The U.S. is not made up of a single culture, language, or point of view. Not now. Not ever. For that reason, I decided to use my research sabbatical to travel the country by bicycle to talk to people about their perspective on how immigration from yesteryear and today has made us who we are.

On July 1st I departed from Santa Cruz, California to begin an 8,500 mile journey that will take me across 35 states and into Canada and Mexico. I write this from Richmond, Virginia, about halfway through my trip. Along the way, I have been speaking with people from all walks of life (young and old, rural and urban, minority-non-minority, and across economic class, immigrant and non-immigrant) about their views on the emergence of Latinos as the nation’s largest ethnic minority and the impact this is having on the United States’ national identity and culture.

The inspiration for my trip was an 1891 essay by Cuban patriot and poet-journalist José Martí. In this essay titled “Our America,? he called for a distinctively American culture, one that embraces rather than denies, the dynamic and organic relationship between place, language, and experience that shapes the American continent. It is this America that I have been re-discovering and affirming in my encounters with people—even as I know that I am bound to meet people who would like nothing more than for all of us to “go back where we came from.? For me, this would be Texas.

(Watch for the second installment of this blog - it will be posted in a few days)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Ott published on October 5, 2007 12:22 AM.

Refugees, Asylees, Parolees, and the Others: Who Decides? was the previous entry in this blog.

A Journey Across Our America: This land is your and mine - Part II is the next entry in this blog.

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