Being American is great, if you aren’t really American.
As the great immigration debate continues to plod along, with lawmakers arguing over whether or not illegal immigrants that have made their homesteads here in the United States without authorization should be given amnesty or granted citizenship or should even be called “American”, I find myself contemplating what “American” really means and why criminals are being given documentation, drivers licenses and healthcare as a reward for breaking the law.
The definitions of being “American” are rather ambiguous and non-committal in periodicals and reference books, as though the writers themselves are also unsure as to what requirements must be met to be considered “American”. Merriam-Webster explains it as “A person born, raise or living in the U.S.” whereas the Associated Press Stylebook (1994 ed.) defines it as “An acceptable description of a resident of the United States.” So which is it? A resident? A born person? Someone simply “raised” here? Geesh. No wonder they can’t figure out the immigration policy.
Author’s Note: The definitions do not include Indian Tribes as “American”.
To further complicate the matter, we so-called Americans have developed sub-categories to better identify ourselves within ourselves and as ourselves so we can include ourselves. Categories such as “African-American” or “Italian-American” or “Jewish American” or “Hispanic American” or “Asian American” or “Russian American” and then each sub-category of the sub-categories are further lineated to we can have sub-sub-sub-sub-categories clarifying the level of our American-ness.
In our attempt to be politically and socially inclusive, we have created compartments in which to fit every citizen (and illegal alien), so as to not offend anyone lest we be deemed intolerant. The irony is that the result our efforts to be inclusive is that we have become exceptionally exclusive with existing citizens, and highly accepting of non-nationals that have no history or legal rights to being here in the first place.
The terminology used to define a citizen of the United States is especially interesting in comparison to other nationality terms, since we have little overall collective sense of ancestry. The French are, well, “French” the Greeks are “Greek” the Nigerian are “Nigerian” and the Canadians are… well, they do what they can.
Individuals that can trace and prove their family’s “American” lineage are often shamed into the shadows because in order to have been involved in the building of the colonies, for instance, history is clear that our ancestors also participated in the virtual genocide of native peoples and the horrific treatment of women and slaves.
In other words, being an American is great – if you aren’t American.
But if you are, because little is more detested by popular culture than someone that claims ancestral lineage to this country, prepare to stand-by while we watch the lawmakers making special concessions for illegal immigrants ignoring the ancestral Americans.
So what if you are really American?
Proof of this detested status is not only indicative of how we treat our American citizens with ancestral roots in the colonies, but is even clearer in how we treat the truly native, Native Americans.
I’ve not heard any news reports on the Native Americans (other than issues with the names of a football team). Not one. The mainstream media is silent about the need to address the issues surrounding the theft of Native American homelands, mineral rights, or true retribution for the devastation their people have incurred over the past 150-plus years.
Perhaps cleaning up the mess we’ve made over the past 400 years to an almost forgotten “demographic” isn’t sexy enough to entice the attention of national television programming and therefore lawmakers and [we] so-called Americans debate the illegal immigration issues instead. There’s little money to be made by Corporate America or the Federal Government in focusing on how we’ve wronged the Native American populations. Yes, the media and Congress seem to enjoy debating and creating policy that is more popular, profitable, and has more earning potential than a forgotten people.
We haven’t even granted the documentation for all the tribes and tribelets, nor made even the smallest efforts to assist them in preserving their ancestral languages and art forms… yet there go our lawmakers off chasing after a bunch of criminal border-hoppers in the hopes that those undocumented workers will be their future voter base.
My best friend is part of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians Acjachemen Nation. The history of her tribe dates back well over a thousand years, though their troubles on their own soil really started in 1542 when the Spaniard Juan Rodrieguez Cabrillo first began his sailing expeditions on the coast of California followed a few decades later by Francis Drake (www.juaneno.com).
Sadly, it was a downhill spiral from there. With forced assimilation, theft of their property rights by agencies developed under the New Deal (and a plethora of other such “deals”), subsequent sham policies to shut them down and shut them up, ridiculous standards required to prove their American-ness, the total lack of economic resources and the forcible placement of the majority of their citizens on Federal Government Assistance… it’s appalling and absolutely disgusting that illegal immigrants are even given a second’s worth of consideration before we address this issue.
She and I talk every day, usually more than twice. In the morning over coffee, and then after work, and then whenever a small something happens that we need to share. For her, the issue of fair treatment is very personal… and we “Americans” have consistently failed her people.
Whenever news about the illegal immigration debate comes on, I take a deep inhale of oxygen (or nicotine) because I know she’s going to let loose a barrage of insults on the lawmakers and lobbyists that have nearly decimated her tribe and their rights to property in this country in favor of so-called seekers of amnesty that simply want a more comfortable way of life instead of dealing with their own country’s issues. Rightly so, in my opinion.
The Juaneno tribe (and many others) has yet to receive the full apologies, recognition, and retributions from this “American” government that’s so focused on giving amnesty to people that came here illegally or granting citizenship to known terrorists.
That we “Americans” fail to discuss what we’ve done to a nation of tribes from whom we raped and pillaged and to whom we’ve driven their populations to almost unsustainable levels beginning with the Spaniards and followed by the Dutch and British and into modern day is incomprehensible, and certainly wouldn’t happen to the “African Americans” or “Hispanic Americans” or “Asian Americans” or “FILL-IN-THE-BLANK Americans”… those groups get MUCH more media coverage, and quite frankly, are just more profitable.
By all means, the United States has become a major melting pot since the early Spaniards, and then Western European colonists arrived (and then spread like a virus) in this “New World” that wasn’t so new to the thousands, if not millions of actual Native Americans that already resided here.
My family, for instance, was amongst the first of the Dutch Settlements in New Amsterdam, New York in the mid-1600’s (verified and documented in what little records are available). I’m sure those ancestors of mine participated in the blight and deaths of Native Americans who were certainly happy in their own land before we ever arrived, along with slave ownership and placing women into indentured servitude. It’s a sad day, though, when we allow politicians to turn their backs on their responsibilities to an entire people for profit.
I cannot and will not support a Congress and their special-interest corporate lobbyists that push aside the real issue of Real Americans for the sake of granting documentation to people who don’t have the right – either now or previously – to be here in the first place simply so these politicians can harvest more votes and their corporate cohorts can harvest more profits. When you think about immigration reform, and the resources it takes to document those that have come here illegally, I suggest you ask yourself this: How can we grant amnesty to illegals, when we can’t even recognize those we’ve been harming for over 200 years on this very soil?
Photograph is Chief Clarence Lobo (d. 1985), Juaneno Tribe, San Juan Capistrano, California, and my best friend’s Great Uncle