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I love party themes. I have party themes for guests at dinners that are Western, butterfly, pizza, luau and, of course, 4th of July.

This 4th of July, I had so many people coming for dinner that I decided I needed more hats and decorations. So, I went to the local party store and on the morning of Independence Day. There I encountered an amazing scene.

In front of all the July 4th cups and hats and flags was a family deciding what they should purchase. They looked over all the merchandise and carefully choose hats and flags and a centerpiece.

What was different for me was that this family was Latino, and they were not speaking English. Not one word of English emerged in their conversation as they decided what to purchase. I immediately thought of the immigration bill and how much rancor there is about our southern neighbors trying to become citizens.

Clearly, if the family I saw was any example, language is no more a determinate of patriotism than skin color was thought to be. People used to think that Jews and Italians could not be good, patriotic Americans. They thought African-Americans were not equal to white Americans. Why do people think that Latinos can’t be good Americans?

There have been many surveys of Latinos about what they want. The Pew Hispanic Research Center’s survey found “that more than nine-in-ten (93 percent) who have not yet naturalized say they would if they could. Asked in an open-ended question why they hadn’t naturalized, 26 percent identified personal barriers such as a lack of English proficiency, and an additional 18 percent identified administrative barriers, such as the financial cost of naturalization. The survey also revealed that among Hispanic legal permanent residents, just 30 percent say they speak English “very well” or “pretty well.”

Their concerns about the barriers to citizenship are against the backdrop of the California constitution, which was written in both Spanish and English with a provision (that was later dropped) that legislation had to be written in both languages. It was even back then a recognition of people coming from Mexico and the contribution they could make to the state.

Our neighbors to the south now come to the United States in search of a better and more stable life. They are willing to do things that few current citizens are willing to do. They pick tomatoes, clean hotel rooms and do jobs that few people who have been here for at least one generation are willing to do.

Mexicans and people who come from Central and South America are not known to be terrorists, either. Most of these people want to become Americans and to celebrate along with us. I am not so naïve to have no concern about people crossing the border who have been part of the drug cartels and the drug trade. However, if we were to open our borders and get rid of the incentive to sell drugs to survive, then that problem would be greatly reduced as well.

I am reminded of that fateful December Saturday in 2010 when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed but the DREAM Act failed. In the Senate gallery were college students who live as Americans, who grew up most of their lives as Americans and who have no connection with the country they were born in. Many in the Senate gallery were college graduates, and one photo shown on the Senate floor was of a student who was a graduate of New York University dental school but was not legal. Why wouldn’t we want that talent?

The National Council of La Raza also estimates the contribution of Latinos in the U.S. economy. From their research they have found that “the number of Hispanic-owned businesses is rising dramatically. The number of Hispanic-owned firms (defined as those in which Hispanics of any race own 51 percent or more of the stock of equity of the business) grew by 44 percent from 2002 to 2007, compared to 15 percent growth in the number of firms owned by non-Hispanics. Approximately 2.3 million businesses – 8 percent of all U.S. nonfarm businesses – are owned by Latinos. The revenue generated by these businesses was $345.2 billion in 2007, up 55.5 percent from 2002. In the United States, Hispanics own approximately 29,168 firms with receipts of $1 million or more. About 30 percent of Hispanic-owned firms operated in construction and other services sectors.

Those figures show that there is a lot of money being generated to buy those 4th of July decorations. It is time we realized that language, like skin color, is not the only determinate of who is patriotic and American.

It is time to include them our country and to also let them in, not just next year’s 4th of July but the next one and the next one after that. The Latinos are good Americans and we should celebrate and welcome them. Our country will be better served if we do, and we will be stronger for it.

 

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