In 1907, during one of the great immigration waves, President Teddy Roosevelt said that the immigrant who comes here “in good faith … shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.” However, he added, “We have room but for one flag, the American flag.”
Words well worth recalling as we noticed what student protesters decided to hoist up their high school flagpole while ostensibly demonstrating against immigration reform. In Spanish this is called reconquista, the reconquering of Mexican land lost during the Mexican-American war (1846-48), and its appearance in Los Angeles this week adds a dark dimension to the entire immigration debate.
In contrast to Mexican immigrants, those who emigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came mostly from countries — Ireland, Poland, Italy, Bohemia, Germany and Greece — that had little if any significant historical dealings with the United States. Nearly all had never had colonial possessions in America, nor had lost territory on the continent in war. Their citizens emigrated because they were inspired by hopes for a new and better life, not redress for past indignities. In time they became Americans.
Something entirely different motivates the Hispanic radicals. Their inspiration is anti-Americanism, which they cheerfully articulate in banners proclaiming “This is our continent, not yours!” They claim citizenship, or at least the benefits of citizenship, to be theirs by right, rather than something to be earned. And their ultimate fantasy is no different than the radical Muslim immigrants living in the slums outside Paris: To retake what they think was formerly their ancestors’ land, if not in name then in numbers. Tragically, they are able to dupe idealistic students into advancing their cause by masking their true intentions behind the facade of ethnic pride or civil rights. Nothing is more un-American, especially for those requesting American citizenship.
We acknowledge that a majority of protesters gathering in Los Angeles and San Diego this week do not believe in the reconquista agenda. Their disagreement is with Congress, not America. But by accepting radicals into their ranks, by allowing students to desecrate the American flag, they have given tacit approval of the reconquista message. If the leaders of the Latino community wish to bring public opinion to their side, they must condemn these verbal and symbolic calls for reconquest.