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Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Hispanic honor will outlast Trump’s hot air

Alicia Lopez Fernandez paints a piñata in the likeness of Donald Trump at her family’s store “Piñatas Mena Banbolinos” in Mexico City on July 10. The piñata was a special order made after Trump said that some Mexican immigrants to the U.S. bring drugs and crime, and some are rapists.
Alicia Lopez Fernandez paints a piñata in the likeness of Donald Trump at her family’s store “Piñatas Mena Banbolinos” in Mexico City on July 10. The piñata was a special order made after Trump said that some Mexican immigrants to the U.S. bring drugs and crime, and some are rapists. The Associated Press

For the nation’s 54 million Hispanics, this is a confusing time of year.

Hispanic Heritage Month, which was established by Congress in 1988 and runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, is all about mixed messages. It allows for America’s largest minority to feel simultaneously appreciated and unwanted.

Just like those illegal immigrants – housekeepers, nannies, gardeners, cooks, farmworkers – that Americans love to complain about but would hate to live without.

Projected to make up as much as 29 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, Hispanics are told that America is lucky to have them – even though some people insist the country would be better off without them. The mainstream devours Hispanic culture and promotes bilingualism, even as Hispanics are pressured by others to assimilate and abandon their Spanish. They’re told they have the power to decide elections since three battleground states – Nevada, Florida and Colorado – have significant Hispanic populations, even while some Republicans would like to shrink the voter pool by stripping citizenship from the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

In 2015, Hispanics are admired, feared, loved, hated, courted, despised. We need more of them. We want fewer of them.

It’s dizzying. America, will you please make up your mind?

Over the next few weeks, universities, organizations and corporations will use events, initiatives and marketing campaigns to snuggle up to Hispanics with the goal of getting a slice of their $1.5 trillion in buying power. And yet, even while all this schmoozing is going on, many Americans will be succumbing to nativist impulses, spewing hate and rallying around politicians who want to build walls and outlaw Spanish in the hopes of returning the country to what it used to be.

It didn’t take long for many Hispanics to conclude that when Donald Trump vows to “make America great again,” what many of the GOP front-runner’s supporters hear is a coded pledge to reverse demographic trends and make America white again.

Now Trump is pointing to the Iranian nuclear deal as a prime example of the Obama administration’s give-away-the-store style of negotiating. The businessman claims he can make a bad deal into a good one. He is selling the idea of “winning” and tells supporters that, if they put him in the White House, they’ll win over and over again.

“We will have so much winning, if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning,” Trump said at a recent rally in Washington, D.C. Then he corrected himself: “You’ll never get bored with winning.”

Many Hispanics are getting bored with Trump, and they’re tired of being his foil. They’re also worried that the billionaire’s definition of “winning” could mean that they lose two things they’ve worked hard to obtain: dignity and respect.

Trump knows a lot about success. And, this summer, one thing he has succeeded at is marginalizing Hispanics – especially Mexicans and Mexican Americans. In just three months of speeches, rallies, tweets and free media, the real estate mogul has made this group seem foreign, newly arrived and out of place. That’s no small feat given that we’re talking about people who have lived in the American Southwest for more than four centuries.

These days, Hispanics can be found in all 50 states, and they help shape how Americans think about sports, food, fashion, entertainment, music, pop culture and the digital world. And in their day jobs, they preserve the American dream with an awe-inspiring work ethic and unshakable sense of optimism.

Listen up, Trump. It’s true that, for Hispanics, you’ve made this summer a little hotter than usual. You’ve had a lot of fun, and much of it at our expense. But we were here first, and we’re not going anywhere. We don’t have to promise to make America great. Making America great is what we do every day.

When it comes to heroism and sacrifice, we don’t need lectures from you. We gave at the office – and gave, gave, and gave some more. Our military contributions date back to the Civil War, when Cpl. Joseph H. De Castro of the Union Army became the first Hispanic recipient of the Medal of Honor, for acts of heroism at Gettysburg. Overall, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to more than 40 Hispanic Americans. In over half the cases, it was presented posthumously.

Charlatans, blowhards and demagogues will come and go. But one thing that endures forever is honor.

Ruben Navarrette is a Washington Post Writers Group columnist. Email: ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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