Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The mariachi singer is more American than his critics

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
June 17, 2013 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
At the World Series game on October 24, it was James Taylor who had the save of the night. The singer was there to lead the stadium in the national anthem, but instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner," he began singing "America the Beautiful." He's not the only star who's been caught in an awkward patriotic moment: At the World Series game on October 24, it was James Taylor who had the save of the night. The singer was there to lead the stadium in the national anthem, but instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner," he began singing "America the Beautiful." He's not the only star who's been caught in an awkward patriotic moment:
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Photos: Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 11-year-old Mexican-American who sang national anthem is bashed on social media
  • Ruben Navarrette: The boy is more American than his racist critics
  • He was invited back by the San Antonio Spurs and got cheers for his encore

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.

(CNN) -- The scoreboard was clear.

Winner: 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz, "El Charro de Oro" (the golden horseman) who became a national story after he sang the national anthem at Game 3 of the NBA playoff series between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat and showed a lot of a talent, heart and class.

Losers: The haters and racists who -- displaying a lot of ignorance -- hid behind the anonymity of Twitter to spew venom and attack the little guy because they thought that no one dressed in a mariachi outfit was certified American enough to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Here's a sample:

"This lil Mexican snuck in the country like 4 hours ago now he's singing the anthem" -- Francois@A2daO

"Who dat lil #Wetback sangin the national anthem at the #Heat game????" -- TJ THA DJ@Tj_Tha_Dj

"Can't believe they had the nerve to have a beaner sing the national anthem of AMERICA #smh" -- THE_GREAT_WHITE@bdub597

"Is this the American National Anthem or the Mexican Hat Dance? Get this lil kid out of here" -- StevenDavid@A1R_STEVEN

"So illegal aliens can sing The National Anthem @ games now?" -- Mr.CheckYaDm@DJ_BMONEY

What does it mean to be an American anyway? Here's a quiz:

On one hand, you have someone who goes before a national audience and shows his love for a country where dreams come true.

On the other, you have an angry mob filled with hatred and racism that, cloaked in the anonymity of Twitter, spews invective at a child.

Now, which do you think represents what it means to be an American? Who do you want to claim? And who would you send packing?

The United States looks out for the powerless, the downtrodden and the oppressed. Our system of government --- a constitutional republic -- protects the minority because majorities can protect themselves.

Meanwhile, De La Cruz took the high road.

Boy returns for NBA encore in mariachi suit

"For those that said something bad about me, I understand it's your opinion," Sebastien told CNN. "I'm a proud American and live in a free country. It's not hurting me. It's just your opinion."

Later, he discussed the backlash with reporters.

"To be honest," he said, "It's just the people how they were raised. My father and my mother told me that you should never judge people by how they look. You should judge them on the inside. And the saying that I go by is never judge a book by its cover."

I don't have that kind of self-restraint. When I hear stories like this, I get sad. Then, I get enraged.

I mean, enough is enough!

De La Cruz is a Mexican-American born in San Antonio.

That means he is part of a community that has -- since Manifest Destiny, the U.S.-Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 -- put up with more than 100 years of discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of those who consider themselves superior.

Even if, as the racist tweets show, they don't always act in ways that convey this alleged sense of superiority.

The part about De La Cruz being Mexican-American, as opposed to a Mexican immigrant, is essential to the story. It's a complicated road.

"They don't know my life," he told reporters about his tormentors. "My father was actually in the Navy for a really long time...People don't know, they just assume that I'm just Mexican. But I'm not from Mexico. I'm from San Antonio born and raised, a true San Antonio Spurs fan."

When De La Cruz did an interview with Univision, the Spanish-language network, he did it in English.

And this is what the nativists were worried about -- that Mexican-Americans are not assimilating?

The next chapter will be where some Mexican-Americans actually turn on De La Cruz for appearing to distance himself from Mexico. If they do, they'll look as silly as the nativists. The "distance" is already there. He's not a Mexican. He's a Mexican-American. There is a difference.

Finally, thanks to the San Antonio Spurs -- and especially some good people in the front office -- a story that had many Latinos, and other Americans, seething had a Hollywood ending.

De La Cruz was invited back to perform an encore of the national anthem at Game 4. Flanked by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and his wife Erica -- the boy returned to center stage and belted out an even stronger performance the second time around. I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the arena.

As for the haters, they did what bullies usually do when someone stands up to them. They ran and hid, disabling their Twitter accounts or deleting their comments.

For De La Cruz, who was aware of the comments and the controversy but managed to stay above it, the call-back wasn't political but personal.

"To be invited back to sing the national anthem is just amazing because now I know the San Antonio Spurs like how I sing," Sebastien said. "It makes me feel like I'm doing something legendary."

The rest of us know that the encore was about more than the boy's talent. This was a message. The San Antonio Spurs is a classy outfit that boldly took a stand against bigotry and ignorance.

Naturally. It was the American thing to do.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 2148 GMT (0548 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT