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What Latino Families Can Learn From Sebastien de la Cruz

Honestly, I'm rarely shocked when I hear racist comments used against Latinos. I'm Mexican-American but look white, so people often think it's okay to share their racist, disgusting comments with me and think I'm one of them. But what happened to adorable and talented 11-year-old Sebastien de la Cruz on social media was shocking even to me.

De la Cruz did an amazing job singing the National Anthem during the NBA Finals game in San Antonio between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, but all the haters saw was brown. They took their vitriol to Twitter and said things like "Can't believe they had the nerve to have a beaner sing the national anthem of AMERICA" and "Who dat lil #Wetback sangin the national anthem at the #HEAT game????"

Beaner? Wetback? I haven't heard these words since I was a kid growing up in Arizona. And Wetback is an acceptable hashtag? It's disgusting and heartbreaking. I guess it shouldn't be that shocking considering Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska recently referred to farmworkers as "wetbacks" in an interview and then defended it by saying he "meant no disrespect." And that's what some of the haters said on social media, that they didn't mean anything and were joking.

There is nothing funny or more disrespectful than using hate speech against a child. A child who sang his heart out, live, in front of thousands of people. (Think of how many adults can't get through that song, let alone in front of thousands!) I can't imagine how his mother felt hearing the things that were said about her son. Some of the tweeters called de la Cruz a "foreigner" and speculated that he was an "illegal alien" when in reality, he is an American citizen, born and raised in San Antonio. No doubt many who made offensive comments about the boy likely were unaware that the reason he was invited to sing the anthem is because he's a nationally recognized mariachi singer who competed on "America's Got Talent" last year. But since when are being Latino and being American mutually exclusive?

De la Cruz addressed those people so eloquently on a San Antonio news show Wednesday morning when he said "They don't know my life." He went to talk about how his father was in the Navy and how de la Cruz was proud to be born and raised in San Antonio.

How sad that an 11-year-old has to defend himself from racists. I also wonder how we got to this place in America where people feel comfortable enough to publically use racial epithets when talking about children. What do we have to do to stop it?

As a Latina mother, raising my kids to be aware of their bicultural identities, I hope they never hear that kind of language used against themselves or anyone else. What worries me is that many people think it's not a big deal to say these things. Most people know better than to use the N-word when talking about African-Americans. But somehow it's okay to use wetback, illegal alien, and beaner when talking about Latinos.

And I shudder to think what people who take their hate speech to social media are saying to their children at home when the doors are closed—and the computers turned off—if this is what they're saying publically.

The only way to stop this kind of hateful language is to start talking with your kids. Tell them it isn't funny to use hate speech, no matter who they are talking about, where they hear it from, or where they see it. Let's hope that the mini firestorm that erupted from the racist tweets about Sebastien de la Cruz will teach people a lesson and they'll think twice before taking their hate online. Sadly, I think we have a lot of progress to make as a society before we can stop worrying that our children will be exposed to this kind of hate-filled behavior. But if we could teach all our children to handle this kind of situation with the same kind of grace as de la Cruz, the world would be a better place.

As Sebastien de la Cruz tweeted after hearing about all of the offensive comments made about him:

You can read more about the controversy and see a video of Sebastien de la Cruz's performance here.

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