America’s Self Image Problem

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally.

Cesar Chavez at the Delano UFW rally. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Some of you may already have known that yesterday was the anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birthday. Others may only have known because of the tempest in a teapot over Google honoring him with a doodle yesterday, rather than celebrating Easter. There is so much to be discussed about the man’s achievements and about the silliness of Christian “victimization” that resulted in yesterday’s brouhaha. Something else happened yesterday, however, in the middle of all that, and it got my wheels spinning in a different direction.

On one particular Facebook status a gentleman responded that Google is an American company and implied that honoring Chavez was therefore in bad taste. I rarely literally perform a facepalm, but in that instance I did. Cesar Chavez was born an American, in Arizona. He served in the US Navy during World War 2 (ie, he was a member of  “The Greatest Generation” of Americans, whatever that means.) He even has a US Naval vessel named after him. It is hard to get much more American than that.

Now it is entirely possible that this poor, benighted Facebook user was mistaking Cesar for Hugo. In that case there is so much else wrong with his comment. Google is traded and does business internationally. Oh, and Cesar was not Hugo. A little reading is a good thing. Still, even if that is the case for this gentleman, I wonder how many others feel that way, fully knowing who Cesar was. People who have no problem with what he accomplished and even admire him, but view him not as an American.

They are out there, and they belong to both political parties. Oh, sure, more of them are Republican than Democrat, at least those that consciously hold these views, but if you ask most Americans to picture an American family, they are going to picture a blond, blue-eyed couple with a pair of blonde, blue-eyed children. They picture lily-white living in a house with a white-picket fence. They do not picture someone who is brown, red, or yellow, often even if they are.

I can hear the howls now from the willful racists out there. “America was built by white people, its history is white.” I will not deny the influence, for good and for ill, of white people on our history. There have been plenty of non-white people who also have influenced it, and Cesar was one of them. We clearly have a problem if your first reaction to seeing a brown person is to imply they are not American.

We have seen this play out the last few years. I am far from the President’s biggest fan, but I would never deny his citizenship. The only reason the birther movement gained ground to begin with, and still has adherents today, is the color of his skin. No one would dare question the citizenship of a white politician.

America used to be called a melting pot. That was always a bit of a misnomer and definitely insincere. You were only accepted into the brew if you were from some appropriately European country, and even then sometimes it took several generations. We are more of a salad and unfortunately there are a few rotten pieces of lettuce that want to kick out all the tomatoes, onions, and peppers (with all due respect to Mr. Chavez who fought so hard for those who cultivated those vegetables for us.) They want the salad to be bland and familiar. Well that is not what we have, nor will we ever have it, and we are better off for it. America is not just one color and that is becoming increasingly the case. We just have a problem seeing that.




One thought on “America’s Self Image Problem

  1. Pingback: More Non-white = Non-American And I Wish I Could Say I Was Surprised | Hand of Ananke

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