Why a Mexican flag is offensive, but not other “foreign” flags?

header-hoover-institution-fellows1-1by Alex Gonzalez

Pictur 2Last week, Trump called those protestors in New Mexico displaying the Mexican flag ‘thugs.” But was he calling these protestors “thugs” because he assumed they were Mexican immigrants just because of the flag? But what if they were American citizens from New Mexico – like in Texas and California –  that have lived in the state longer that Trump’s family has lived in this nation? New Mexico is the state where, as a percentage of the population, has the highest share of Hispanics in state,  and those residents trace their heritage to more than 300 years of history in the Southwest and they see the Mexican flag as the history of the state and as cultural resilience, not as disrespect for America. But for some reason the image of the Mexican flag still provokes angry political demands of loyalism and denunciation of Mexican heritage?

There is no excuse for violence in political rallies, and those seeking to raise awareness of the detriments of Trump-ism to American democracy should make this point without engaging in violence. However, the flag alone is not reason to assume that these anti-Trump protestors are “illegals” or Mexican “thugs.” In any case, serious conservative historians and policy-oriented intellectuals have repeatedly argued that, more than any Mexican flag,  Trump is the real threat to constitutionalism and 150 of American conservatism.

However, the usual suspects – talk radio host – like Mark Lavin, Sean Hannaty, Michael Savage are already sounding the alarm that the Mexican flag and those “illegal” Mexican protesters will destroy American society. But there is nothing new about these rants since these radio personalities have made fortunes demonizing Mexican-Americans who are US citizens and Mexican culture suggesting that such culture will dilute “American society”

Sure, Trump wants to portray these protestors as Mexican “thugs” because his overt anti-Mexican messages in his campaign reinforces, to his followers and those radio personalities, that everything-Mexico is bad, including the federal judge to whom he accused of being bias against him because of his “Mexican heritage;” coincidentally, his attacks on Gov. Susana Martinez, happens to be a female governor that is Mexican-America.  Thus, associating the Mexican flag with thuggery and “bad Mexicans,”is an old trick that reinforces that already preconceived notion by nativists that the Mexican flag is a “foreign” and  anti-American.

But for Mexican-Americans, those born here,  who often use the flag, this is a bigger cultural matter than election cycles. To them, these anti-Mexican rants are routines used by politicians who want to take no responsibilities for their own actions or failure it is typical to scapegoat “the Mexican” – even if the Mexican has lived here for 4-5 generations. Moreover, Mexican-Americans and the flag tend to be easy political targets of those who continuously refuse to acknowledge that Mexican culture and the flag are part of American culture, and albeit the history of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest has been contentious at times, Mexican culture is American culture, too.

But why the Mexican flag is still offensive to some, especially in politics, but not other flags? The veneers of Americans politics are filled with many groups that have come to the U.S. and used the flag of their ancestral land, or home county, as a coping mechanism and resilience; some call this “diaspora” group identity and here in America they have use this ethno/political force  to mobilize people and voters, and their flag is part of theatrics required in politics to mobilize voters. It is not surprise that those who are the strongest opponents of Mexican-Americans using the Mexican flags, come from “ethnic white” groups that historically used the “old country” flag to to develop political power and often push for their “ethnic” political agenda. They do so by overtly suggesting that their flags are synonymous with American patriotism and ethnic resilience, but the Mexican flag is everything that is anti-American and social civic decline.

So let’s not pretend that a Mexican flag is the only “foreign” flag used in political rallies. But the real question is why only the Mexican flag provokes such reactions, especially from some in “conservative” circles.

And some of historians argues that this cultural animosity towards the Mexican flag comes from the episode of Mexican-American War and some of it comes from the time when southern white confederate veterans settled in Texas and other Southwester states and brought their “prejudice” with them.  This was the times when Mexican-Americans became “foreigners in their own land” and their properties lost to new arrivals of “Anglo” settlers.

But, why is a Mexican flag, which has been part of American history longer than those flags of the “ethnic whites” that came to America through Ellis Island, still more menacing that  the ones of other ethnic groups?

Flags are commonly used in Irish political rallies in the East Coast in states where large Irish-American voters, especially in  Congressional districts and cities that are predominately Irish-American and politicians wrap themselves in the Irish flag a lot, including Republicans who are always “offended” by the  used of a Mexican flag.  Why these politicians  “pander’ to Irish voters,  and wrap themselves in “foreign” flags if they see it necessary to get ethnic vote in their respective state or districts? But nobody ever complains about in conservative circles, even if the Irish well-known for being politically driven by their ethnic “diaspora” identity against the British and in support for the Irish state, even if went against the interests of the American government and its traditional “especial” relation with UK.

The Irish lived as a conquered people in their own nation. Britain controlled the politics, economics and religious life of Ireland. Subjugation and strife gave rise to an unmistakable Irish identity. When the came to American, their sense of cultural cohesion, and an ability to mobilize and  organize to accomplish goals here in America, even if it involved corruption.

“Their organizational ability coupled with the large number of Irish living in U.S. cities, made the Irish a powerful political force. They literally transformed politics in American cities by putting local power in the hands of men of working class origin. Building on principles of loyalty to the individual and the organization, they built powerful political machines capable of getting the vote.

Political machines controlled major American cities into the 20th century. From New York to San Francisco, the Irish dominated big city politics. New York’s Tammany political machine was under Irish control for more than fifty years.

Irish-American political clout led to increased opportunities for the Irish-American. Looking out for their own, the political machines made it possible for the Irish to get jobs, to deal with naturalization issues, even to get food or heating fuel in emergencies.” 

Guns-for-the-IRA-from-New-York-peopleIn the 1970s, even Irish-American Politicians and political organizations raised funds to help  the Irish Republican Army (IRA), despite that fact that the State Department and the British government labeled this group as a terrorist organization. Yet, nobody demands use of Irish flag in politics be removed from politics.

Israeli flags, too, are commonly used to get support from the Jewish voters and donors, especially among religious conservative groups who have a vested in mobilizing Evangelicals to support Israel. And Jewish groups have been very successful in how they use the symbolism of Israeli flag to get Evangelical to support a “foreign flag” in political rallies.

I am a strong supporter of the pro-Israel political lobby known as AIPAC because there is a lot Mexican-Americans can learn from them.  Again, the question here is why some “foreign” flags are acceptable in political circles and why some are demonized.

Cuban flags fly all the time in south Florida when Cuban protest anything they don’t like about the “politics of Cuba.” Cubans activist are among the most ‘ethnic’ militant groups in America; they have learned that in creating disorder in the streets they can pressure politicians and the local level and in Congress to oppose any changes to the status quo that favors Cubans- Especially among older militant Cubans.  And Cubans openly and proudly, and often violently, wave their Cubans in front of politician who oppose their views.

US Cuba Miami Protests (3)So when other groups use their “ethnic” flags, nobody calls Irish, Jews, or Cubans “thugs” and no one points out how anti-American they are when they display their ethnic flags. Should Mexican-Americans who have lived here for generations start asking for demanding for the “deportation” Cubans, Irish and Jews every time we see their ethnic flags in political rallies?

So why these political cultural exigencies to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans? Nowadays, the Dems are slowly embracing the Mexican-ness, or Mexican-American identity of Americans of Mexican descent; and George W. Bush tried to do the same within what once was the party of Reagan but a has turned into big government populism.

51e60FWH0rL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I grew up in the 1990s when Americans saw for the first time the big grow of Hispanic, especially Mexican-Americans. The so-called conservatives from the National Review, and some from the Hoover Institution, started coming up with clever names to demonize the Mexicans flag as well as entire Mexican-American population; when president George W. Bush and the 2008 recession, the Heritage Foundation also shifted its immigration reform views and started to label it as “amnesty” and it became the main intellectual supporter for SB1070 in Arizona.

They crafted menacing titles  like “MEXIFORNIA” insinuating the state will turn into Mexico, and as precaution the state needed do something; the state government must retaliate by creating punitive laws and cutting access to any source of government agencies to children – education which is Constitutionally protected. And for the most part, this is the same dishonest argument many of so-called “limited government conservatives” always have to justify growing the government at the federal and state level under the pretense of ‘the rule of law,” or “American social decline” caused by an increase of the Mexican-American population. from American losing their jobs, increase in crime, loss of a “white identity,”these naysayers always blame Mexican-American and the Mexican flag, in their mind,  is a symbol America social decay and loss of “white” power. As a result, for opportunistic politicians, blaming Mexico and the Mexican flag is the easiest way to the top.

Thus, in the conservative movement, turning Mexico and the Mexican flag into negative is form of resisting Mexican-American identity; but it is also to suppress the empowerment of Mexican-Americans in politics. Unlike Cubans, who are concentrated in south Florida and are only 5% of all Latinos in the U.S., Mexican-Americans are concentrated across 8 states and in the Southwest and they are 70% of all Latinos, and as they are the only ethnic group with legitimate claims to this land since they have been longer than anyone else.

Thus, to prevent, or retard, this cultural awareness and Mexican-American empowerment from coming together as a cohesive political force across states the same way the Irish did in the East Coast, many resort to cultural shame and portray the Mexicans flag as an expression of anti-Americanism,  anti-Western and anti-Christian culture, despite fact Mexican culture itself is an offspring of Western culture and Christianity.

But much of this cultural shaming, and demonization of the Mexicans flag – especially in politics – has to do how Mexican-Americans, the older generations, approach their history and ethnic identity.

As I have mentioned, no  other ethnic group has been here in the US longer than Mexican-Americans. But their political power – millions of new voters- is only a recent things; so many of already-established and “assimilated” older -generations sometimes have hesitations to embrace the new wave of Mexican immigrants from the 1990s, which led to a large increase of Mexican-American community in the Southwest.

To some degree, it is the insecurity  of the older generation that still allow this demonization of the Mexican identity by political activists to turn the Mexican flag into something negative or anti-American.

2012-phc-mexican-migration-01aIn 1970, the population of Mexican-Americans was only 4 million. Currently, is about 40 million. And largest came in the 1980s and 1990s when the U.S. economy grew rapidly caused by demands for services by the baby boomers. As a result, unless we have older generations and cultural elites instill a positive history of Mexican-Americans and past this cultural pride onto the millions of newer generations, we will have political groups openly engaging in shaming and sabotaging our history and heritage.

And some conservative groups with lots political clout understating this Mexican-insecurity and use it against them to suppress the Mexican identity; sometimes they even hire Non-Mexican “Latinos” to instill shame in Mexican-Americans from the southwest and de-legitimize the Mexican-American presence in the Southwest, their culture and history claiming that it is incompatible with conservatism.

Another way of suppressing the Mexican identity in politics is by assigning Mexican-Americans to low-level post as foot-soldiers and not develop mechanism within the party apparatus to groom Mexican-Americans to top leadership positions since the “old” guards still fear that the party may become too “brown.”  So at the,  even if the Mexican soldier wants to see someone of his own ethnic groups as Generals, end voting for the white candidate because he/she perceive the Mexican soldiers to be unprepared to be General.

I have also said that many party bosses and interests groups have vested interests in bringing non-Mexicans Latinos from others states to lead political organizations that are made up of mostly Mexican-Americans. Too, often, Mexican-American are trapped into the “Latino” or “Hispanics” labels because the Hispanic label is used interchangeably by political small groups, like Cubans, to further their agenda by claiming to represent all Hispanics.  However, this Hispanic identity is weak and easily fractured because it is a political creation and it does not really embody the group(s) experience that tend to strengthen a community. It is only when a community shares a common cultural experience that it can be built into political power.

And this is how the Republican National Committee (RNC) most of the time hire Cubans from Florida to lead Hispanics in the southwest. In sending “Hispanics” to the Southwest, the RNC hopes that Mexican-Americans will follow a party “Hispanic” agenda that does no directly addresses the interests or concerns of 40 million of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest.

But again, it goes to how Mexican-Americans see themselves as an integrals part of this nation and how they bring this identity into political power. However, this cultural hesitation is only in politics.

And that is the premise of Tomas Jimenez’s book Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans,  Immigration, and Identity. It explains why Mexican-Americans still struggle with their identity here in the US and why sometimes the cultural  exigencies cultural of “loyalism” in political circles make them hesitant to embrace the millions of New Mexican-Americans.

Jimenez of Stanford in his book  Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans also argued that even though American society discriminated against the descendants of these early Mexican immigrants because of their ethnic origin, the children and grandchildren of these immigrants moved out of ethnically concentrated neighborhoods, joined the military, intermarried, and experienced socioeconomic Mobility and do not want to be called “minority’.

replenished-ethnicity-mexican-americans-immigration-identity-tomas-jimenez-paperback-cover-artBut Jimenez also points out that Mexican Americans everyday experiences reveal that their ethnic identity is connected to contemporary Mexican immigration in ways that make that identity simultaneously more beneficial and  costly.  Mexican immigrant replenishment provides the means by which Mexican Americans come to feel more positively attached to their ethnic roots. But it also provokes a predominating view of Mexicans as foreigners, making Mexican Americans seem like less a part of the U.S. mainstream than their social and economic integration. But if third and fourth generations of Mexican-Americans feel cautious about their Mexican identity  because it may treatment their middle-class status and assimilation

Racial classification of Mexicans as non-white for states like Texas and Californian to send Mexicans schools and that created an idea that if you wanted to be “middle class” and “white” you had to reject Mexican  identity.

Another great book is by   Gregory Rodriguez – Mongrels, bastards, orphans, and vagabonds – and

racial classification an unprecedented account of the long-term cultural and political influences that Mexican-Americans will have on the collective character of our nation. In considering the largest immigrant group in American history, Gregory Rodriguez examines the complexities of its heritage and of the racial and cultural synthesis–mestizaje–that has defined the Mexican people since the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century.

Thus, “el mestizaje” and American racial classification, and Jim Crow laws, and it had a lot to do with how Mexican-Americans struggled with their identity and how it plays in politics.

But let’s  be clear that this cultural exigencies of loyalism to Mexican-Americans are purely political and have nothing to do with  American ideals, the US Constitution and patriotism; these demands are purely Party ideas push by rank-in-file party activists, and some state parties bosses, who do perceive that rise of a cohesive Mexican-American political force as a threat to their political titles and “white-ness,” and fears that bringing in too many “Mexicans” will make the Party too brown. But this is all party politics.

Moreover, across generations, Mexican-Americans interact fully and the they are aware of common cultural lineage, and hold their Mexican heritage (or Mexican-ness) highly. It is only in politics, especially in conservative circles, that Mexican-Americans are demanded that they prove their loyalism,] and abandon any display of their Mexican-ness. But Any Mexican-American political leaders, or cultural elite, who wishes that Mexican-Americans become rulers of their own destiny needs to instill the young with healthy historical accounts in Mexican-Americans to strengthen their cultural character.

But Mexican-Americans and Mexicans, in general, do think in term of ‘race.’ It is a more of ethnic identity linked to US in the southwest and Mexican immigration. About 60% of Mexicans think of themselves as “white,” some think of themselves as “brown or meztizo ” and some as native people, but overall is cultural ethnic identity here in the US, not racial.

I don’t expect non-Mexican Latinos to understand why Trump overt anti-Mexican remarks are so vile. For the same reason that  they won’t understand why Mexican-Americans in 1930 who were Americans citizens were rounded up and deported under FDR to give jobs to poor whites who were suffering during  the Great Depression. In don’t expect non-Mexican Latinos do understand why  Eisenhower deported American citizens and Mexican immigrants as “wetbacks”  to give jobs to returning GIs. I don’t expect non-Mexican Latinos to understand why GI Mexican Americans after fighting  in Europe came home had to fight here at home for the Right to be  buried with same honors and any other “white” soldiers. This is an issue that pertains mostly to Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. This contentious American history is unique to Mexican-Americans. As a result, Trump remarks are more offensive to Mexican-Americans than any other group.

I don’t expect those so-called “Latinos” who are getting ready to support Trump so they can be paraded  as “Latino  supporting Trump’ by the RNC and Trump campaign.  And it is Ok since many have to keep their token political titles and get campaign jobs; but for Mexican-Americans, this is greater than this election.

For Mexicans-Americans, it all start with who we are, what we want and who we choose to respect our communities and our history; and no party whose political platform is based on the demonization of members of the Mexican-American communities deserves our support.

In the Southwest, Mexican-American cultural heritage is greater an expression of what Jefferson intended  under States Rights; states have the right to have their own culture, and neither the federal government, nor a National Party, have right to impose national culture—or suppress one to favor others–other than a “common civic culture”. Jefferson would have agreed that a few states in the same region have the right to bond together to protect their culture and history, so long as long as it doesn’t conflict with the Constitution. Therefore, Mexican-Americans have the right to insist that their culture be reflected within the whatever political party they join, and we have to right to demand to our history and heritage no longer be scapegoated or be labeled as unit-American or as u-loyal. Once, this happens, the Mexican flag will be perceived as a symbol of resilience and history, not anti-Americanism or foreign culture.

Sure there will always be those who oppose  to the idea that Mexican-Americans become more politically assertive. But that is politics, and the day of the bad Mexican will vanish since now we have a “reverse migration” and both Mexican in Mexico and Mexican-Americans here in the U.S. will find ways to iron out their regional difference and build a more cohesive economically integrated region that serves the interest of both nations.  As former Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza put it:

In many ways, I’ve lived a North American life. I grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and like many other towns along the border, I’ve watched it change dramatically over the years. As a kid, nearly 40 percent of my classmates were from Matamoros, Tamaulipas and I would walk or bike to their houses after school. Even as I got older, I never thought twice about heading across the border to play basketball or football with my friends.

In the 1980s it stopped being such a quiet place and now it’s much more difficult to go back and forth across the border. However, these communities remain the spaces where two countries, two cultures, and two languages intermingle every day. They make great places to visit and live and are the obvious starting points as we develop stronger partnerships with our neighbors.

These communities remain the spaces where two countries, two cultures, and two languages intermingle every day. They make great places to visit and live and are the obvious starting points as we develop stronger partnerships with our neighbors.

So the flag is a symbol of resilience cultural pride, and coping mechanism – and what you want to see in it – that has nothing to do with being disloyal to the nation. At a time when conservative scholar and intellectuals are warning the nation to Trump is the real threat to the American institutionalism  and 150 years of  history of the Republicans party, low lever rank-in-file party activist argue that Mexican flag is the real threat to this nation.

But, though these political cultural demands to Mexican-Americans are both racial with political objectives, it is nothing new in American Plurals Democracy.

The first wave of Puritan English colonies in New England pushed the Scott-Irish into the South since they believed Scott-Irish were too unruly and culturally unfit for their religions social order. So the Scott-Iris settled in the South where their culture flourished under their own cultural unruly terms.  The first wave Irish immigration had to face anti-Catholic and anti-racial stereotypes from the protestant WASPish establishment. Later, Jews and Italian immigrants had to fight Irish in industrial cities where the Irish had become the news guardians of the “white” label. Subsequently, the Irish, Jews, Italians saw the benefits and privileges of adopting the “white” label to help reinforce segregation laws in cities and suburbs that kept millions of blacks out of the political and economic system.

But that is the nature of Plural Democracy where many groups compete for political power under the established rules.

So Mexican-Americans are not the first ethnic group whose rise to power will come to the expense of the loss of power of others; and they will try slow down their progress with clever unconstitutional laws to deny access to education and civic participation voting; that is the the game. But under the established rules of Plural Democracy, Mexican-Americans too can garner the power of the masses if voters become active and elect people who will support and protect the interests of the Mexican-American across the Southwest. Only when Mexican-Americans learn this game, the Mexican and Mexican culture will stop being foreign flag and menace to American civic society.

meAlex Gonzalez is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com or @AlexGonzTXCA


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