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 Mari Carmen Aponte
In this election, the real achievement has been the evidence of the plurality and diversity of voices in the United States. Photo by michenerartmuseum.files.wordpress.com

What does a real American look like?

Former U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte breaks down why immigration is so important to the past, present and future of the U.S.

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This might sound like a rhetorical question, but it is borne of genuine curiosity. Are you a “real” American if you do not have blue eyes or speak with an accent? 

Of course, we know these questions are ridiculous because the evidence is overwhelming: Americans look like everybody. 

I am a Latina. My family is from Puerto Rico, and I spent many years living in Pennsylvania. I am a lawyer, an activist, and was a U.S. Ambassador. I am also an American.

I have contributed my time, resources, and expertise to advancing U.S. interests at home and overseas and, believe me, even if I do not appear to be a “gringa” with blond hair, real Americans look exactly like me.

This vast diversity in the appearance of Americans is the incredible result of centuries of immigration.

Immigration is our past and our future. It links us to our values of equality of opportunity and freedom for all, which our Founding Fathers set as our national aspiration all those years ago in Philadelphia. 

On a purely pragmatic level, our economy is heavily dependent on new labor and new ideas, as does our culture if we are to stay connected to an increasingly globalized world.  As the leader of the free world, it is critical that we center immigration issues in our national dialogue while finding common ground to enrich our nation and treat everyone with respect and compassion.

Our current Presidential administration has tried to fool Americans — all of us — by turning immigration into a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity for growth.  They have turned this critical aspect of our culture into a wedge issue to promote the darkest recesses of nationalism. We are in desperate need of an administration that looks at all the sides of this complex issue. 

Over the past four years, what has transpired is demonizing and terrorizing, even of those who legitimately seek asylum.

There are three main areas where immigration touches fundamental interests for everyone in America, whatever their heritage:

Foreign policy

This president has blackmailed our neighbors and threatened them over immigration, cutting off aid and, by doing so, making it much more difficult for them to address the root causes of migrant flows.  He has alienated countries in Latin America while simultaneously soliciting hemispheric support in dealing with Venezuela and Nicaragua’s ongoing crises.

Jobs

We should see legal and regulated immigration for what it is — a way to keep our economy humming. A recession helps no one, and there is plenty of work to do to get industries back on track and repair our crumbling infrastructure.  However, as we are already facing crippling farm labor shortages, what happens to our agriculture if our labor force is decimated, especially during an ongoing pandemic?

Values

The values we hold most dear are the words on the Statue of Liberty, which resonate for all of us. Still, those values cannot be seen in denying asylum to gang violence victims, putting children in cages and separating families, or cutting funds to the Citizenship and Immigration Service to make the wait for intending citizens stretch to a year or more.

Americans are not just born; they are made —forged out of hard work and contributing to the greater good. Fair immigration policy will look at all dimensions of this issue and make the right choices that serve our interests and elevate our best selves. Joe Biden knows how to manage relations with our foreign allies, he will create jobs that build back our economy better than before, and he holds dear those values that have made America a place of inclusion and fairness. 

I cannot speak for you, but I have had enough of hateful stereotypes and fearmongering. No more. We must end the ridiculous simplification of who is a “real” American — whether you are lucky enough to be born here or you are resilient enough to move here, we are all Americans.

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