Growing up it took a while for me to realize that I was an American. Everyone around me said they were Puerto Rican and told me I was as well. I learned Spanish and English at home. I watched the Muppets and Smurfs and Sesame Street while also watching Iris Chacon, Don Francisco, and every telenovela under the sun (Dos Mujeres, Un Camino was one of my favorites!) with my grandmother.
It wasn’t until I went to school that I truly realized I was an American. At school, I said the Pledge of Allegiance in English but also learned Spanish from teachers who looked and sounded like my family. I learned nursery rhymes in English and dressed in these big flouncy dresses so I could celebrate my Puerto Rican heritage. I thought this was normal and you could be Puerto Rican and American because the people I grew up with were Italian and American, Portuguese and American, Cape Verdean and American, etc., etc., etc.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I learned how threatening this was to people who didn’t grow up with the diversity I did. Unfortunately, that ignorance still exists.
On Tuesday, Sebastien de la Cruz sang the national anthem at Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Boy, did he sing. You see, Sebastien, who is of Mexican Heritage, is a known singer in Texas (and beyond) of mariachi music who stepped in at the last minute to sing the national anthem. Personally, it gave me chills to hear him sing and it made me proud that a young Latino had the opportunity to shine on such a large stage.
But as I mentioned earlier, ignorance still exists and this young boy was attacked as an other because he dared to come out in traditional mariachi dress to honor is heritage and honor his country of birth with a terrific rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Of course, the backlash against the ignorance was swift but the best response was directly from Sebastien. He made it clear that he was a proud American and part of a proud American family.
Hearing his response made me remember my childhood growing up as a Puerto Rican and an American. But most importantly, it made me remember that I could honor my heritage and still love the country I was born in. It’s a lesson I am passing down to my daughter.
By the way, if any of those ignorant folks are wondering what an American looks like. Here is my American Salvarican (half Salvadoran and half Puerto Rican daughter) celebrating her Puerto Rican heritage last year.