When one first reads Mexicans Begin Jogging by Gary Soto, the reader sees Soto working in a factory when the border patrol shows up and his boss tells him to run away before they find him. Soto attempts to tell his boss that he is not an illegal immigrant and that he is American, but his boss does not believe him and pays him a dollar to go with the others. So Soto runs with the other Mexicans, down the street, past crowds of people on the street, and away from the border patrol. Looking deeper, the reader might notice that Soto has a light tone. He describes his “great, silly grin” as he jogs. He is not hurried, as he has nothing to fear as he is a legal American. Soto yells “vivas”, an ironic jab at his Mexican heritage to things like baseball and milkshakes that are iconically American. As a man of Mexican descent, Soto is grouped in with the other Mexicans, most of whom appear to be illegal. Because of his skin color, he is automatically assumed to be part of one group, even when he actually belongs to another. I think Soto feels that there is an argument that people either can be American or they can claim their heritage, in this case Mexican. In my opinion, heritage is important and should be recognized just as equally as American citizenship.
In his poem, Soto tries to tell his boss that he is an American, but his boss assumes he is lying and sends Soto on his way. In society today we see this pretty regularly. There are some people who assume that if a person is Mexican, then they must have entered the United States illegally, or that they only speak Spanish, or maybe they do great yard work. This racial profiling, whether conscious or not, is part of the mindset that people are only where they come from. There are people of Mexican descent who are American citizens, who have gone to school and grown up in the country, and may not even speak any Spanish. They get grouped together with other people who were born in Mexico and who lived there a majority of their lives. There are also people who, even though they are generations removed from their family members who left Europe to come to America, will only claim that they are Irish. Maybe they have never set foot in their mother country, but they would sooner say they are Irish or German than American. The idea that a person’s ancestry or heritage completely decides who they are can be positive or negative. One could take pride in their Irish ancestry and completely claim that as their identity, or for example, when one drop of African blood meant a person could no be considered white, the decision was made for them – they could no longer vote and many other rights were denied them (Elliot, 1469).
While some are of the opinion that you can only be what your skin color, ethnicity, or culture says you are, there are others who believe that if you are an American citizen, then that’s all you are. Some believe that it doesn’t matter if you are from Mexico or Canada or Europe, that if you’re an American citizen you should speak English and claim the American ways. Some might even question your political loyalty if you have competency in another language or suggest that English not be the official language of the US of A (Baron, xvii). Patriotism is sometimes taken to the extreme and American citizenship becomes the most important part of a person’s identity. Where you came from or where your family came from does not matter, you are an American now and that’s what counts.
I believe the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. A person’s heritage is important. When you have an idea of where your family came from and what they’ve been through, it can give you a sense of identity. Identifying as German or Irish or Mexican also bonds groups of people who may otherwise never know one another into a community. Heritage and culture gives people reasons to come together. The same goes for being an American citizen. One of the greatest things about the United States is the diversity. I believe that the fact that people from all over the world, from Africa, Asia, and South America can all come together and claim one nationality. I believe that it is important to claim our past as well as our present.
In the same way that Soto yells, “Vivas” to baseball and milkshakes, I believe accepting our cultural backgrounds and heritage is just as important has being an American citizen. You can be Mexican or Japanese, but you are still American. I believe that terms like African-American or German-American are important for recognizing the importance of each person’s heritage, what makes America so beautifully diverse, and the combination of how both the past and present can make up someone’s identity.
- Baron, D. (1990). The English-only question: An official language for Americans? Yale University Press.
- Elliot, J. E. (1986). One drop of blood: The American miscegenation myth. University of Missouri Press.
- Soto, G. (1990). Mexicans Begin Jogging. In The Norton Introduction to Literature (5th ed., pp. 1234-1235). W.W. Norton & Company.
- Carter, S. (2009). Racial identity and the struggle for human rights. University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Foley, N. (2006). American identity, citizenship, and multiculturalism. University of Minnesota Press.
- Gonzalez, J. M. (2001). Borderlands: The new mestiza = La frontera. Aunt Lute Books.
- Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. McGraw-Hill.
- Kivisto, P. (2002). Multiculturalism in a global society. Blackwell Publishing.
- Omi, M., & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge.
- Zinn, H. (2010). A people's history of the United States. Harper Perennial.