By Raul Reyes
Before game three of the recent NBA Finals in San Antonio, Sebastien de la Cruz stepped up to the microphone and belted out the National Anthem. Decked out in his mariachi suit, the 11-year-old “America’s Got Talent” alum wowed the crowd with his singing.
On social media, racism reared its head. “This lil Mexican snuck into the country like 4 hours ago now he is singing the anthem,” read a tweet that formed part of an online river of hate. “This kid is Mexican why is he singing the national anthem,” tweeted another commenter, adding the hashtag #gohome.
It’s sad that a child should become the target of such ugly, anti-immigrant sentiment. However, these views didn’t arise in a vacuum. The fact is that Republican lawmakers have become accustomed to demonizing immigrants, to the detriment of our civil discourse and to their own party. Meanwhile, our nation continues to grow more diverse, putting the GOP out of step with a changing America.
After the 2012 presidential election, in which Latino voters overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama, the smart approach for the GOP would have been to adopt a more inclusive tone towards Latinos in particular and immigrants in general. That’s not what happened.
In May, Representative Don Young (R-AK) used the term “wetbacks” in a radio interview. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) routinely refers to undocumented people by the pejorative term “illegals.” Recently, Representative Steve King (R-IA) complained about the “illegal aliens” who “invaded” his office, in reference to the young, undocumented immigrants who organized a protest there.
The young people were protesting in King’s office because he sponsored a bill to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to adjust their status. King and his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives passed the anti-DACA measure knowing full well it has zero chance of becoming law.
Why? Because they have no qualms about being seen as openly hostile to immigrants. Moreover, House Republicans remain opposed to comprehensive immigration reform.
These narrow views put them outside of the political mainstream. A recent New York Times poll found that 83 percent of Americans support comprehensive reform, including a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The anti-immigrant crowd is also bringing down their party. The research firm Latino Decisions has found that when Republican politicians speak negatively about immigrants, it doesn’t only reflect poorly on them, it gives Hispanic voters a negative view of the Republican Party as well.
As Republican lawmakers continue with this rhetoric, our country is undergoing a demographic shift. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that for the first time, the number of racial and ethnic minority babies being born has passed that of white babies. The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Texas are already “minority-majority” states, and eight other states will join this list by 2020.
If the GOP does not soon adopt a “big tent” approach, it risks marginalizing itself as a national party.
Yes, the changing face of the U.S. may seem frightening to some people. But the GOP shouldn’t play upon these fears — it should help dispel them. Consider that the Pew Hispanic Center has found that Latino immigrants assimilate and learn English just like every other group before them. Or even that the pint-sized mariachi crooner de la Cruz was born in Texas — the son of a U.S. Navy veteran.
This story has a happy ending. The San Antonio Spurs invited de la Cruz back a second time, to sing the National Anthem at game four of the NBA Finals. Everyone from President Barack Obama to “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria wished him well, and he nailed his encore performance.
With determination and confidence, young Sebastien triumphed over bigotry. What could be more American than that?
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.