As we approach Independence Day, it is well to remember that the actions to achieve and maintain our independence throughout the 241 years of existence has come by way of a focus commitment on the part of generations of Americans. Those families have come from every corner of the world seeking to make the words of the Declaration of Independence an effective inspiration to work and make sacrifices that have led to building an exceptional way of life. The words of the Declaration that created such great expectations include those that say, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For Latinos, the words of the Declaration of Independence have always offered the conditions, place, circumstance and the way to realize the ideals they represent. These signposts even ask us to commit to living and dying for a country, especially in battle, as a test for the most deserving.
Yet, it has been a long struggle to claim the blessings incorporated in the document because a people marginalized for so long have needed to find a way of manifesting those words in their psyche as being an American speaks to an identity that goes beyond patriotic utterances and posturing. One generation must teach the next one about our identity as Americans in a multicultural setting and the uniqueness we bring to the table as individuals and as a community.
America has and is being impacted in a major way by the Latino community that continues to gain strength and confidence in its critical role for this nation. Much of that strength and confidence comes as a result of the recovery of place and cultural traits that define identity.
When I think of identity for Latinos or anyone, I think of the words in Corky Gonzalez’ epic poem, “I Am Joaquin,” that brings home the reality of its process.
I am Joaquin.
I must fight
and win the struggle
for my sons, and they
must know from me
who I am.
That struggle has rendered excellent results as the confirmation of identity has done much to reset the role of the Latino community in the American mainstream. Although the effort continues to integrate Latino immigrants into the American way of life, that challenge is very different from a history that marginalized American Latinos for so long.
The Chicano Movement did much to dramatize the search for justice in America and find ways to recover identity. It is the Latino immigrant however, that brought a sense of wholeness to the basic elements of identity found in a world view, nationality and language.
The rediscovered wholeness of identity facilitated the Latino drive to the American mainstream. Despite obstacles posed by a regressive racist old guard that has its say at the highest levels, the world is changing and the words of the Declaration of Independence are more meaningful than ever.
When Thomas Jefferson was appointed to write the draft of the Declaration of Independence, he had in mind more than a list of grievances to justify the thirteen colonies’ break from the Britain. He also had in mind a grand vision for America that would be the foundation for its institutions.
That vision was based on a unique identity that colonist had acquired over the previous 150 years. Latinos bring a similarly unique identity developed over more than 500 years.