I'm Not What You Might Think

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By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
Sunday, April 9, 2006

I 'm Alisa, and I'm a recovering journalist.

Used to write for the Boston Globe and L.A. Times. Quit to be a novelist out of frustration with the media's incompetent reporting about Hispanics and immigration. In the spirit of helping people overcome the misinformation they often read, I offer the following cheat sheet:

1 The words "immigrant" and "Hispanic" are not synonymous. The majority of Hispanics in the United States are not immigrants. According to 2004 census data, 60 percent of the more than 40 million Hispanics in this country were born here. Of the 40 percent who were born elsewhere, the majority are legal immigrants, not illegal.

2 Many immigrants are not Latino. There could be more than 100,000 Nigerians living in and around Houston. There are thousands of illegal Irish immigrants in and around Boston. China, India, South Korea and Canada are among the leading countries sending people here. Many illegal immigrants are college students and workers who choose to overstay their visas.

3 The United States has two international borders. Not one person who has come to the United States from Mexico has been publicly identified as a terrorist. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was from Pendleton, N.Y. Maybe we should build a wall around New York instead of across the southern border.

4 Enough about the flags, already. They're symbols of cultural pride, not national allegiance. T hink Irish flags on St. Patrick's Day, or Confederate flags over South Carolina. When newspapers ignorantly frame this debate in ethnic terms, people ignorantly respond with misplaced ethnic pride.

5 Language is not genetic. The Pew Hispanic Center shows that by the third generation, 100 percent of Latinos speak English as their first and often only language. This is the precise assimilation pattern for every other foreign-language immigrant group in this country. P.S. If you're so opposed to non-English words, you may speak the names of only 13 American states and almost no cities in the Southwest.

6 Hispanics like to remind you about America's Hispanic past not because we want to go back to it, but because we are sick of you assuming that all Latinos are immigrants. My family has been in New Mexico for seven generations. Bet I beat Lou Dobbs on that one.

7 Please stop sending e-mails saying things such as, "All you Hispanics should go home." I, like most Hispanics you see every day, am already home.

alisa@alisavaldesrodriguez.com

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is the author of "The Dirty Girls Social Club" and the upcoming "Make Him Look Good," both published by St. Martin's Press.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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