This week, Latina/o media went ballistic over the racist twitter comments about a Mexican kid singing the U.S. National Anthem at the NBA finals. Basically, pundits and online commentators defended the boy’s performance as his “American” birthright. While he does have a right to sing it and his discontents are indeed racist, I believe the rush to prove his “Americanness” and that of all other Latinas/os is the wrong kind of message.
As historically oppressed peoples, we are accustomed to attacking anyone or anything that delegitimizes our place in this country, no matter the specific issue at hand. But, it’s a problem if the only narrative we got to throw back is “we are American, we belong here, we’re patriotic too!”
As a Boricua, whose ancestral home is occupied by the U.S. – a place where its own flag was illegal for decades – I cannot stand to think that we, and our compatriots, are now fighting for the right to sing an anthem that represents the plunder of homelands. It’s even more ironic (or sad) that this child is a Tejano, a descendent of an occupied people; from a state annexed from México after multiple, bloody wars.
Yes, in the context of increasing deportations and a standstill in comprehensive immigration reform I can understand this charge to claim an über-gringo status. Even for Boricuas, all of whom are citizens at birth, socio-economic exclusion has also stirred in us a drive to be seen as true, blue “Americans.” But should the response really be to appropriate blood-soaked symbols or to continue to carve out a distinct space true to our cultures and identities? Basically, I’m saying we shouldn’t be using our energy defending a little boy singing an imperial lullaby, but reshaping what it means to live and be a part of this country. So that when cases like these pop-up, we can decry racism but also ask the question: “should we be singing this anthem?” Too bad that never happened, because it’s an important one to discuss.
Some may quip that I’m telling us to say: “We hate this country and we didn’t want to be here anyway!” That is visceral and the latter is probably true, but, in this conservative atmosphere, it isn’t going to capture many imaginations. But, I hope there is still room for some truth, which is the anthem doesn’t represent us. This may not be effective in the halls of Congress, but let’s not lie to ourselves and our people on the street. On the bright side, a Boricua youth from Maryland refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance out of political conviction. There still may be hope.