Once and for All: Let's Lose the Loose Talk About Who Is and Isn't American

By Erick Siavichay

It's been nearly a year since Fox News personality Laura Ingraham tried to float the false idea that Puerto Ricans are not just as American as the rest of us. From the United States' renewed efforts to move from enemy to frenemy to friends with Cuba, our ongoing border wars and lack of movement on immigration reform, now is a great time to take stock of what it means to be American after all.

Ingraham clearly presented her cultural ignorance when she expressed that U.S. Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor must choose between her "immigrant family background" or the U.S. Constitution she is sworn to protect and uphold. If you recall, the remark came when Sotomayor, an American citizen with Puerto Rican roots, used the carefully chosen phrase "undocumented immigrants" to describe any illegal immigrant in America. Ingraham, however, used the phrase "illegal alien" which implies not only are the immigrants illegally in America but unwanted foreigners. Ingraham's insult implies she believes Sotomayor is a Puerto Rican alien and not an American.

Puerto Rican-born citizens are in fact American citizens, as a commonwealth of the United States under our protection. They were granted automatic American citizenship in by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917. Not only is Justice Sotomayor an American citizen, so are her parents. Many people isolate and segregate foreign cultures or people who don't conform to a white ideal of what an American is.

American Hispanics, too, have been generally excluded from the term "American." Many people seem to forget that there are more than 20 Hispanic ethnicities other than Mexican. This generalization of Hispanics, often creates a stereotype threat that treats American-born Hispanics as outsiders. According to an Associated Press-Univision poll, 40 percent of Hispanics said they faced discrimination personally. Furthermore, 61 percent of people think Hispanics experience discrimination more compared to with 52 percent who said blacks do, and 50 percent who said women experience more discrimination.

The lack of consideration that Hispanics can be American has led to discriminatory laws such as an Arizona law that allows cops inquire the citizenship of people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally. Because of my hair and complexion, I'm often mistaken as Mexican. Thankfully, I haven't experience bias because of this, but these statistics give me pause about traveling to southern states. America is a melting pot; our cultural roots should not interfere in letting someone identify themselves as American.

To be sure, our brains are complex machines that identify and categorize things quickly. Our challenge is to not let our brain override common sense by including people in our reflexive classification habit because the only race that matters is the human one.

Erick Siavichay is a Junior at Kenwood Academy High School and participant in Youth Narrating Our World, a program of The OpEd Project.