June 12, 2016


Latinos And American Identity In A Time Of Trump: A Postcard From El Paso (EYDER PERALTA, 6/12/16, NPR)

About four blocks from the border, I stopped to talk to Berta Aceves. She owns a little store that sells pretty much everything -- used air conditioners, ball gowns, toys.

I asked her if she considered herself American.

I could tell she was taken aback by the question. But she smiled politely and after a bit of silence, she said: "I have an American passport."

Aceves said that Trump's words hurt. More than 30 years ago she crossed the Rio Grande, got her papers in order and she worked hard to start a business and get her kids through college.

She said she was angry that Trump would question her American identity.

"It's probably easy for him to say those things," she said. "Because he didn't have to struggle to become an American."

Just across the street from her store, I met historian David Romo in a neighborhood known as the Ellis Island of the borderlands.

"Being Mexican American is one of the oldest ways of being an American," Romo said.

What he means is that all of the Southwest was once Mexico. Hispanics have been in this country from the very beginning and the history of casting them as the other is long and storied. Trump, he said, is not the first to do that and neither is he the first to conflate Mexicans with Mexican-Americans.

Romo knows that from personal experience.

He said after he graduated from Stanford University, he came back to El Paso thinking he was "a big shot." Of course, it didn't take long before a Border Patrol agent asked him to declare his citizenship.

"I was frustrated," he said. "I didn't talk back to the border patrol."

But he refused to answer the question and he said the agent put him in a chokehold.

"So, it doesn't matter what papers you have, what your level of education is," he said.

Romo says he tries not to let those indignities make him angry. Instead, he's focused on history. He likes to remind the American people, for example, how in the past the United States has rounded up millions and shipped them over the border.

It happened in the '30s and '40s after the Great Depression, when Hispanics were accused of taking jobs from Americans. The same thing happened again in the '50s when President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched what he termed "Operation Wetback."

It's a part of U.S. history that's not well documented. But we know it was deadly and historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of American citizens were also rounded up.

"Rage isn't enough," Romo said. "We have to go back to the roots. We need to have a deeper understanding so that history doesn't repeat itself."

Posted by at June 12, 2016 8:35 AM