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
updated 11:21 AM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
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
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
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.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
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
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
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
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT