Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

When U.S.A! U.S.A! chant is not patriotic

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
February 26, 2013 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says instances where mainly white teams chanted U.S.A! U.S.A! to insult teams that are largely Hispanic-American is unpatriotic
Ruben Navarrette says instances where mainly white teams chanted U.S.A! U.S.A! to insult teams that are largely Hispanic-American is unpatriotic
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: America is great because it's diverse; cultural differences celebrated
  • So chanting U.S.A! U.S.A! to insult Americans because of race or heritage is unpatriotic, he says
  • He says kids at L.A. school game apparently chanted like this; it's occurred elsewhere too
  • Navarrette: Behavior recalls abhorrent nativism in immigration debate; the practice must stop

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- It never occurred to me that the chant "U.S.A, U.S.A!" -- something you might hear from enthusiastic sports fans at the World Cup or the Olympics -- could be used as an insult. That is, until I saw (and heard) it for myself.

Before I tell that story, let's be clear. Chanting "U.S.A, U.S.A!" is fine; what matters is the context, the intent behind the chant. And that isn't always easy to discern.

It's great if the people chanting are just trying to celebrate a magnificent country. Part of what makes the United States so special in the first place is that we're also an extremely diverse country. The national motto may be "e pluribus unum" (of many, one), but Americans should always strive to cherish and celebrate those cultural differences that make us unique. This means respecting one another as equals.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

So it's not so great if the idea of raising one's voice in a group display is to try to put another group of Americans in its place by implying -- solely because of race, ethnicity, heritage or skin color -- that they're not real Americans or "not American enough." Whatever that means.

That is when the chanting can become really offensive. Patriotism is one thing, racial or ethnic putdowns are another. In recent years, we've seen far too many examples of the latter.

In fact, recently, a group of students at Camarillo High School, northwest of Los Angeles, were ejected after leading a rally at a basketball game against a rival school. The students first showed up at the game wearing American flag bandanas, but school officials asked that they remove them. When they refused, they were told to leave the auditorium. They did, but defiantly returned soon after still wearing the bandanas. Then they whipped the crowd into a frenzy by chanting "U.S.A, U.S.A!" That's when they were asked to leave the premises, and report to the principal the next day.

Initially, there were reports that the students were suspended for five days, but that, after an outcry from the community, the punishment had been rescinded. Principal Glenn Lipman denies that there was ever a suspension.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



That's what happened. Now what's the context?

It seems that the student body at the rival school -- Rio Mesa High School -- is 67 percent Latino and only 22 percent white. Whereas the student body at Camarillo is only 41 percent Latino and 47 percent white.

Was the overwhelmingly Latino population of Rio Mesa lost on the four students who decided to pick that day of all days to celebrate their patriotism? Not likely. In an additional wrinkle, two of the students who led the "U.S.A." chant are Latino.

"If we're doing it for patriotism, that's fine," Lipman said. "But if we're doing it for something else that's racially motivated, I'm not going to allow that."

Officials were ready for trouble. According to one of the ejected students, the school's associate principal made a point of approaching the stands before the game to warn students against making any racial comments at opposing fans.

This isn't the only school where there have been incidents like this. Last March, in San Antonio, Alamo Heights High School defeated Edison High School in a basketball game. The Alamo Heights students celebrated their victory by chanting -- yep -- "U.S.A, U.S.A!" The student body at Alamo Heights is mostly white, and the one at Edison is mostly Latino.

See a pattern? Or do you believe in coincidence?

Now for the story I promised at the start of this column. In 2011, I was in Albuquerque listening to an outdoor speech by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. The Republican has a high approval rating now. But, at the time, she was in hot water with Latino activists because of her crusade to eliminate driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. A group of Latino students showed up to heckle the Mexican-American governor, and the group that had come to hear her -- which happened to be mostly white -- responded by trying to drown out the students with a familiar chant: "U.S.A, U.S.A!"

Again, this was clearly an attempt to put the protesters in their place. Fine. But why would the crowd choose those words? It was because the students were Latino.

The rub is that New Mexico is home to many Latinos whose roots in the United States go back since before there was a United States, hundreds of years in some cases. This was one group of Americans challenging another -- whether they realized it or not.

I'm not sure where this phenomenon of using patriotism to insult is coming from. It could well be spillover from the immigration debate, where we often hear nativists accusing Latinos of not being sufficiently loyal to the United States or even maintaining a secret allegiance to ancestral homelands.

Yet, wherever it is coming from, it needs to stop. And the sooner, the better.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT