This piece represents the views of the author and not U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Department of Homeland Security
“You’re a Latino from south Texas. Someone who grew up as a poor migrant worker picking crops for a living. Why would you use the title ‘Proud American’?” asked a teacher from Brownsville, Texas, during a book club engagement.
I had agreed to attend their gathering to answer any and all their questions regarding my book, Proud American: The Migrant, Soldier, and Agent.
The teacher then went on to make a statement that I hadn’t heard in a very long time: “The border crossed us, we didn’t cross it.” The lady was so upset by the title that her discontent with it seemed to have overpowered her experience reading the book. I wish it hadn’t, but there was nothing I could do to change that.
To be honest, I didn’t know how to even respond. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to an educator. I was happy to be there responding to their concerns, but in my mind this teacher had just chosen to undermine my 10 years of service in the United States Army and the 12 years I had already served with the United States Border Patrol.
To my surprise, many people in south Texas do believe this statement to be true: “The border crossed us.”
So, my question is, how can we truly embrace the American Spirit and what the American Dream represents if we continue to have this mindset of the border crossing us? Granted, millions of people may have different opinions regarding these two principles, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that as an American.
I’m no historian and I may be wrong, but didn’t Mexico actually cede much of Texas, which includes the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, in 1848 after the Mexican-American War?
My conversation with this teacher took place in 2018; that’s 170 years after Mexico formally surrendered the territory to the United States.
Now, I didn’t want to have a discussion on history with this lady but I did remind her that this border issue had taken place way before my great-grandfather had even been born. Why bring it up now? Why did the Proud American title bother her so much?
For one, I’ve never stated nor indicated, nor will I ever, that I’m ashamed of my roots or nationality. I’m proud of having grown up a poor Mexican migrant. I’m proud of my heritage and all the culture that my family has passed on to me. It is in looking back on how I grew up that allows me to gain the strength and courage to keep moving forward. Breaking the family cycle of being migrant workers was one of the toughest challenges of my life and yet this lady couldn’t understand why I had chosen “Proud American” over Proud Hispanic or Proud Mexican-American.
So, I pondered on this conversation for several years and came to realize that she’s not the only Hispanic reader who has asked that very question. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my book. Maybe my service to our beloved nation, the United States, was not enough for them to see that I had “earned” my title and was not willing to give it up for any reason. As of the writing of this article, I’ve now served our country for a total of 24 years and I intend to continue serving.
Add to my dilemma the fact that I was not raised a Proud American. I quite frankly didn’t even know what being a patriot was all about. I was raised a poor migrant worker with the importance of having a solid work ethic in order to have food on our table. I was raised with the importance of knowing our family history and how we got to where we were back then and the importance of how I got to where I’m at now.
I did not know anything about patriotism until I joined the Army. That is where I learned it, embraced it and where patriotism consumed every single particle of my body, my heart, my spirit and my every thought. Maybe that’s why I’m sitting here at my home office on the Army’s 245th birthday typing this up.
Could it be mere coincidence?
Or could it be that on this day I chose to pause for a moment and once again acknowledge everything I’ve been through. My failures and successes. The adversity I’ve faced throughout my life and my chosen careers.
A short pause in time just to give thanks and honor the many blessings in my life while simultaneously remembering all the people who have assisted in my endeavors and all those individuals who have done their best to prevent my own professional growth.
No, we can’t just pause to remember all the great things in our lives. We must also recognize all those moments when we either weren’t our best or when someone made it their purpose in life to ruin our efforts at accomplishing greatness.
Let’s face it, we are surrounded by great people and bad people no matter where we are nor what profession we have. This doesn’t mean we stop trying to achieve our dreams or stop working altogether.
If anything, we look at all the good with the bad and come to the realization that we’ve been able to push through obstacles and have overcome many challenges in life.
In many of my books I write the following quote for people: “The greatness of our destination is lost without the memory of our beginning.”
This is my own personal quote and it’s something that like my book and my endeavor as a columnist for this amazing online magazine just came to be. The stars were lined up perfectly, I guess. I write this quote because when I started my endeavor as a motivational speaker, I did not know what I was getting myself into. Like most people, I researched “motivational speaking” on YouTube. “I know huh.”
Most of the videos I found kept on repeating the same message over and over: “Forget about the past and leave it all behind you. Never look back.”
This created an issue for me. How can we appreciate everything we’ve accomplished and all the challenges we’ve overcome when we forget about the past? How can we continue to tell ourselves and each other not to give up and keep pushing through without acknowledging all the other obstacles we’ve had to face in the past?
I honestly don’t think we can.
Shouldn’t it please us to see that we have faced adversity before and still somehow managed to succeed? Shouldn’t we look back at our own history and relish the fact that we’ve come a long way?
I sincerely hope so.
We must always keep trying to do better. Keep trying to evolve into better individuals. We should always strive for professional and personal development and growth.
We will all face our own challenges. We will all have experiences in which people will try to shut us down for no apparent reason other than their own egotistical issues. Trust me, I’ve had my share of bad people do their best at obstructing my efforts to reach a certain goal. I’ve even had individuals ostracize me simply for doing a good job or for being the assistant of someone they didn’t care for.
We may never know why a person would act maliciously toward us for simply trying to do something good or for trying to achieve a specific goal in our lives. It could very well be that they don’t know themselves.
In the end, all we can do is learn from those experiences and become better individuals because of them.
This is why I believe that we must embrace our past. Own it wholeheartedly and learn from it as best we can. It could very well be that we merely learn not to trust certain individuals or which mistakes not to make again, but we still learned something.
So never give up. Never stop pushing forward. Keep working hard to realize your dreams. Honor the good, overcome the bad and use both to become a stronger individual.
As for me, I will continue to be proud of my family, my culture, my upbringing. I will continue to cherish my time in the military and in law enforcement. I will continue to love our American flag. I will continue to believe we live in the greatest country of the world. I will continue to serve my country as best I can.
And I will most definitely continue to be a Proud American.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.