Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The mariachi singer is more American than his critics

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Mon June 17, 2013
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
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
updated 2:33 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
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.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
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.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT