February 16, 2001
By David Conde
Less than a month ago, George W. Bush was inaugurated as our new President. To be sure, the election process which brought him to the swearing in ceremony was complicated and at time, inconclusive.
When things were most unsure, our institutions responded to the need to express our collective will as a sovereign nation of free people. They confirmed once again the supremacy of our authority and power to exercise self government.
It could be no other way. Yet, in the face of the bast daily pressure of the election process and the communication media, there appeared to be a moment when we had to ask ourselves, are we losing the power and domain over our own lives? Are we losing our sovereignty as a people and as a nation?
I believe that these are appropriate and necessary questions which must be asked and answered, from time to time, by every generation because every generation has the obligation to discover for themselves our national nature.
There is a possibility, however, that we may be asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question should be who am I? Or better, who are we? Because it is in rediscovering identity for yourself that you will find sovereignty and domain expressed in natinal life. In a democracy, nationhood is proclaimed out of this understanding.
This is particuarly true for America since we are a nation of immigrants. This nature is expressed in our diversity, a diversity that at times, makes us question our very unity.
The political ideology during this presidential election is a case in point. When ninety percent of African Americans voted their liberal agenda, the election results politically marginalized that whole community. Now George W. Bush is having to find a way to effectively be their President as well.
Another case in point is the view many choose to take in defining our immigration history based on how Europeans came to America in the last two centuries.
When you think about it, it is understandable. Beginning with the Pilgrims, the immigrant experience has had a profound impact on the collective psyche of the American people.
The very notion of the American Dream was forged by immigrants as a measure whose pursuit justified abandoning home and country for a far away land across the ocean. Turning your back on who you are for what you can become has been the major headline of the immigrant story.
Willing to give up history, language and your very identity in exchange for what is deemed the American Way was expected and even demanded. Our country could not have been built to its present greatness without it.
Today, many people appear confused because this concept does not seem to be working when applied to the immigrant coming from Mexico. At the same time, Americans instinctively know that Mexican imigrants are making a major contribution to this country. They are, in part responsible for our continuing economic growth and prosperity without inflation.
What really appears to be the issue is that Mexican folks are not making enough of an effort to leave their Mexicaness behind when they come to this country. And once here, they do not try hard to become citizens.
American thinking has been conditioned to an immigrant experience which calls for dying from your old country as a condition for birth into your new one. For Europeans, the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean tended to act like a rite of passage which brought about this symbolic death and rebirth.
There are good reasons why Mexicans cannot really transform themselves like the old style Europeans who came to this country. First, there is no ocean to cross, only a bridge, a river or a fence. Second, the notion of homeland already includes the United States.
Being American has been a condition of Mexican life and history. In a sense, Mexican identity with this land is better measured by the vision of Indian people in America.
Spain's 300 year presence in American did very little to change the dynamics of Meso-american's original identify. Octavio Paz, for example, confesses to the ambiguity created by national movements to remake Mexico and the Mexican into what it cannot be.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 brought an essential reconciliation of Mexico with its pre-Columbian past. It confirmed that being American in the traditions of Olmecs, Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs of the past and present was the best foundation for the development of a modern state.
It also confirmed that the notion of homeland extends beyond the border of Mexico into the vast landscape of the American continent. Manifest destiny disturbed that relationship but it could not end it.
For Mexicans, the American Dream begins with the reestablishment of that relationship rather than some other kind of transformation. For Americans, it is a question of identity rather than sovereignty.
(Reprinted from La Voz Hispana de Colorado, January 31, 2001)