Who is American enough to sing the national anthem?

We live in the age of over-sharing. Anyone and everyone with access to the internet can post whatever they feel like and blast it to their followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook in a matter of seconds. While this new-found freedom of expression has its benefits, it most definitely has its failings too. SDLC_Thumbnail

Anyone with five minutes and a Wi-Fi connection can express their hatred and intolerance without thought; recently, a little boy was deemed “not American enough” to sing the national anthem. While the technology that bigots frequently use to express hate is new, the hate itself is not. This bigotry extends to most ethnic minorities today, and goes far back into our nation’s history, even to its conception.Last week, at a basketball game in San Antonio, eleven-year-old Sebastian De La Cruz sang the national anthem. Thousands of fans cheered his performance in the stadium.

At the same time, hundreds of bigots took to Twitter in order to express their frustration, complaining that De La Cruz should not have sung the American national anthem because he is a) wearing a mariachi outfit, b) he is Latino and c) he is most probably “illegal.” They assumed he is undocumented because of his ethnicity, because of course all people of Latino ethnicity are undocumented. De La Cruz was, therefore, labeled “not American enough,” and repeatedly requested in those tweets to leave the country and go back to Mexico.

A little research shows evidence to the contrary, proving that De La Cruz is a natural born American citizen who loves the San Antonio Spurs and playing basketball. Not only is he a citizen, his father served in the US Navy, and therefore, is so loyal to America that he is willing to defend it with his life. And even if he was not an American citizen, but spent his entire life here, doesn’t that still make him American?

Then why was there such a backlash against an innocent, talented little boy whose only crime is that he chose to express his love for his country in front of thousands of people?

The truth is that even after decades upon decades of minorities struggling for fairness and justice, America is still not the beacon of equality and freedom that we assume it should be or advertise it to be. We still choose to marginalize and demean cultures that we do not understand, and instead, label them as “other” than American.

From the Native Americans to the African Americans to the ethnic Chinese, to anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias in the 19th and 20th centuries, every minority and ethnic group has experienced blatant discrimination at some point in American history. Even Polish and Italian immigrants were not considered “white enough” by Caucasian Americans who were proud to declare themselves superior, according to a belief in racial superiority. Those with light skin, light hair, and light eyes were considered more intelligent, refined, and sophisticated.

Just a few days ago, celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to using the N-word casually and wishing she could have African Americans, and only African Americans, serve as butlers at her parties. A few weeks ago, a young Caucasian woman walked into a Dunkin Donuts and proceeded to verbally attack the employees, using racial slurs and insults. She complained that because she wasn’t provided a receipt after her last purchase, she should get her food for free. Not only did she expect preferential treatment, she also verbally abused a female employee, and threatened to “nuke” her. All that to get a free ride.

This begs the questions: Why is there such a hatred of anyone who looks or acts differently than the “mainstream”? Why are Americans so segregated in our thoughts and beliefs? And as a country, as a collective, aren’t all Americans immigrants anyway? Only Native Americans can claim that they were here first.

I believe that people are afraid of what they don’t understand. They choose to “other-ize” entire communities or nationalities of people rather than communicating with them or trying to educate themselves. We need to replace open mouths with open minds.

According to a Census Report from 2008, non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority in the US by 2042. It is, therefore, imperative (as it has always been) that Americans from all racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds learn to coexist. Not only is this common sense, it is a fundamental aspect of our constitution. We must put aside petty differences and come together as one nation, a nation of immigrants.

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Does Pakistan have a chance at democracy?

Is Pakistan truly a democracy?Nawaz_Pakistan_Thumbnail

In order to answer that question, one has to explore what democracy means.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, democracy is defined as: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

So, for Pakistan to truly be a democracy, it 1) has to have supreme power vested in the people, or the majority, and 2) have periodic free elections.

But is that the case? Or is Pakistan actually a bureaucracy, with a few privileged elite running the country and the majority being crushed?

Pakistan was founded in 1947, after independence from the British and partition from India. In the bitter fight over land and resources, landowners in Pakistan hoarded as much land and wealth as possible, trying to preserve their way of life. These landowners would later become involved in the political process of the country and continue to accumulate wealth and power. Pakistan’s legislature is composed of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly (or House of Representatives). Most of the representatives of the National Assembly are part of the landowning class. Not only would they control the farmers or poor working class populations of their constituencies through economic subjugation, they would further assert authority by making sure they alone had political power. Never will you hear about a poor farmer in Pakistan’s history who was able to become elected as a minister or state representative. As long as the landowning class flourishes in Pakistan and rises up by stepping on the backs of the poor, how can economic or political equality ever be a possibility?

The landowners or zamindar own hundreds, some even thousands of acres of land, mainly in the states of Punjab and Sindh. While they do little work on the land themselves because of an elitist mentality, their farmers or serfs do backbreaking labor for a few dollars a day. More than half of these farmers are in debt, most of whom have had to borrow money from the landowners themselves. Some spend their entire lives trying to pay back the debt, but dismally low wages and lack of supplementary income prevent these farmers from ever breaking free. Furthermore, as almost all of the farming class is illiterate, they have no other opportunities for progress. The mentality that farmers have no need for a proper education still prevails in Pakistan, with trade and agricultural know-how taking priority over a conventional degree. An added social stigma that they are from the farming class follows them everywhere even if they are educated, making it difficult for them to secure jobs in business, the civil service, or other industries.

Can such a fractured and troubled nation be democratic? The answer is not until the power-hungry landowning class’s power is checked. Not until the zamindar class pays the millions of rupees it owes in taxes. Furthermore, not until the average Pakistani is equipped with political awareness and an education, will they be able to vote for the right candidates to represent them in the government. As long as the literacy rate of Pakistan remains a dismal 56%, how can we expect Pakistanis to vote independently or freely in a fair election?

The people must take matters into their own hands and start with their communities. It is an uphill battle but with dedication and commitment, as well as time, it can be won. There are examples of regular Pakistanis who became inspired to truly build their nation and succeeded in causing positive change.

For such change, most importantly, tax evasion and corruption must be challenged head-on and those responsible must face consequences, no matter how many acres of land they own. It is because the zamindar class believes it is above the law that it is able to buy its way out of every situation. This mindset of entitlement is not exclusive to Pakistanis but it has succeeded in permeating every part of the country’s social structure and must be challenged if democracy is to be attempted. Until poor farmers from villages “owned” by landowners stop being subjugated and told who to vote for, democracy cannot become a reality. There must be an overhaul of this elitist system of government with distribution of power if elections and votes are to have any real meaning.

Until then, democracy will be an ideal, not a reality in Pakistan.