Sen. Barack Obama challenges America to learn how to speak Spanish, and Sen. John McCain challenges Obama to deal with Latin America — and my dual national personalities, Miguel and Michael, are fighting again. I'm at war with myself!
As a Cuban-American, I suffer from what I call a "split-nationality syndrome," a condition that affects me, as well as many other hyphenated Americans, mostly during presidential elections and international sports competitions. It's probably the main reason I always have been an independent voter.
Miguel, the Cuban in me, wants to remain loyal to the Republican Party, not because it has done anything special to free Cuba from almost five decades of Communist repression, but because — from the Bay of Pigs to Elian Gonzalez — Cuban-Americans have been betrayed too many times by the Democrats.
Yet Michael, the American in me, has other priorities that transcend past loyalties. As a Latino who has lived in this country five times longer than in Cuba, Michael, like many other Latino-Americans, wants to remain loyal to the Democratic Party, not because it has done anything special to advance immigration reform, education, health care, the economy or the many other domestic issues that concern my community, but because many Republicans have practiced the politics of instilling xenophobia and thus have stood in the way of my civil rights. For Michael, it's payback time!
Needless to say, Miguel wants to vote for McCain, and Michael says Obama is "the man."
If there were any doubt in Miguel's mind, Obama disqualified himself early. The moment Obama said, in a debate with Sen. Hillary Clinton, that he would meet with Cuba's dictator-to-be, Raul Castro, "without preconditions," Miguel gave up on Obama. You don't negotiate with despots who should be tried for genocide!
Michael argues that Obama would be good for U.S. Latinos because Obama promises to fight for comprehensive immigration reform within his first year in the Oval Office and because, as an African-American, Obama seems to jive better with Latinos on domestic issues, such as the economy, education and health care. Michael recognizes that McCain has been an ally of Latinos in the fight to legalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country but notes that the right wing of McCain's party never will let McCain be McCain on this issue.
Miguel argues that for the 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, McCain is the only hope because in order get their legalization through Congress, the borders have to be secured first, which is what McCain is promising to do. Miguel argues for other issues that should favor McCain among Latinos, especially Obama's opposition to the free trade agreement with Colombia and the reluctance by Democrats in Congress to support U.S. assistance to Mexico's war on drug cartels.
When McCain went to Colombia and Mexico recently — and some naive American pundits were laughing and questioning how many votes he was going to get south of the border — there were many U.S. Colombians, Mexicans and other Latinos who were shouting at their TV sets, "How about my vote, stupid?" Those who failed to see the significance of McCain visiting the Virgin of Guadalupe simply are culturally challenged and not politically astute.
Miguel likes to tell that story. Michael hates it.
During the past few days, as Obama and McCain spoke before the national conventions of a couple of large Hispanic civil rights organizations, many Latinos have gone through the mentally agonizing symptoms of the "split-nationality syndrome" — just as Irish, Jewish, Polish or any other hyphenated Americans do when our politicians speak to their organizations about their community issues and U.S. relations with the rest of the world. When they do it for Latinos, some people call it pandering. Not fair. It has been that way throughout the history of this "nation of immigrants."
Based on those speeches, many Americans will end up choosing between the candidate who represents the best interests of their people, either here or abroad. And in the race between McCain and Obama, this is not only true for Latinos but also for many other hyphenated Americans.
If that weren't enough, the Olympic Games are coming. This is when Miguel roots for Cuba, Michael roots for the USA, and many other hyphenated Americans will be suffering the worst symptoms of the "split-nationality syndrome."
During the boxing matches, I will try not to punch myself. And on Election Day, I will let Miguel and Michael race to the voting booth.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.