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As Long as 'Latino' Is Synonymous With 'Immigrant,' We Will Remain a Class Apart

As the battle continues over who deserves citizenship and at what cost, we question whether Latinos can win true citizenship.

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One only needs to follow the incidents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, most of whom are of Central American and Mexican descent, swept up in immigration raids from Long Island, N.Y., to Arizona.

And most glaringly, this condition of being a class apart operates at the highest levels of government.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is the daughter of Nicaraguan and Mexican immigrants. This fact was repeated in her biographical sketch: She is a new American; she is an immigrant's daughter. But the Obama cabinet consists of several children of immigrants or migrants to this country, who speak at length themselves about scars and challenges of this nation, of this nation's soul.

For example, Eric Holder is known as the first African American Attorney General in the country's history. Holder's parents have roots in Barbados. Patrick Gaspar, White House political director (Karl Rove's former post), is a Haitian American. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the son of an Israeli father and was a civilian volunteer assisting the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Gulf War. The press or the public has not made much of these other first-generation Americans.

But "Latino," the word itself has become synonymous with "immigrant", and those it describes are perpetually seen as immigrants, no matter when their parents arrived on U.S. soil.

And, for that matter, in the case of Puerto Ricans, who are automatically U.S. citizens, and many Mexican Americans from the South and Southwest (who never migrated because their lands were once Mexican territories that were ceded to the U.S. as a result of the Mexican-American War), the situation is even more extraordinary.

The authors of this piece are a Dominican immigrant who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and a native Texan who never immigrated (nor did her parents). Both are Latinas, but worlds apart in the way their U.S. citizenship materialized.

But in the current paradigm of who can claim citizenship, we are both intrinsically linked to the world of immigration and foreignness.

And to many Americans, Latinos' roots are in Latin America and Mexico, as though having some connection with Latin America trumps any possibility of becoming a "true" U.S. citizen.

This is not the case for any other group with ties with the rest of the world (i.e. most of the United States). This is the U.S.'s historic denial of its Latin American-ness and its failure to recognize that there is no inconsistency with being a Latin American (or Latino) and a U.S. citizen.

To many Americans, including the authors of this article, Latin America is an integral part of U.S. citizenship and history, just as Jewish and Irish and West Indian ancestry are claimed by many a public official.

And like them, we make claim to our citizenship. It is what girds us before the storm of the immigration debate.