I’m Raoul Lowery Contreras.
Let me explain the title; I am what some call a Hispanic American-Specifically, I am Mexican, I am American, thus I am a Mexican American. The word Mexican is an adjective here.
THERE ARE MORE THAN 37 MILLION PEOPLE LIKE ME IN THE U.S. WITH ANOTHER 130 MILLION IN MEXICO.
I was born in Mexico, in Mexico City. Per the Mexican Constitution I am a Mexican citizen — as are all people born in Mexico. At the moment I was born, I was born an American citizen, even though I was born in Mexico. How, you ask? Simple — My mother, bless her soul, had the good fortune of being born in the United States of America, in San Diego, California. Her father was also born there a hundred and fifteen years ago. Citizenship came through the mother when I was born — her citizenship made me a United States citizen. For those who question that, — birthers — people, like former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted criminal, or President Donald J. Trump, sorry kids–but I have two official documents that state I am a U.S. citizen.
As an American journalist interested in the politics, religion and culture of anywhere I visit, I have visited Catholic and Protestant churches in a Muslim country, Jewish shuls and synagogues in a Muslim country and thousand-year-old Muslim mosques, sometimes –on the same day.
An official Department of Justice certificate of citizenship and a United States passport. That passport has allowed me to travel 90,000 miles to Europe, the Middle East and the fringes of Central Asia. I’ve walked on the same paths and roads Marco Polo walked on almost a thousand years ago. I’ve attended international conferences with a badge identifying me as an American journalist.
And though I thoroughly enjoy foreign exposure, experiences and thousands of miles and hours of travel, my growing up in the United States of America, my American education, my service to my country as a United States Marine and as a professional politico — few things please me more than seeing my name in print as an author of articles or books that inform people and give them exposure to thoughts and subjects they may not know about before they read me.
Let me tell you, I am not a flaming liberal as some of my Mexican American brethren are, nor, am I a feet-in-concrete right-wing conservative as I was in college, in those days, I totally rejected “liberation” movements like “Free Algeria,” I energetically supported the countries we called the “captive countries” occupied by Russian communists and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, China’s Mao Tse Tung, the British Labour Party and American Adlai Stevenson. When the Soviet flag was brought down and East Germany disappeared, tears flowed down my face.
I was the quintessential COLD WARRIOR. I am issue-oriented. Issue by issue. My basic philosophy, my general view –is Center Right. I think Ultra-liberals like Bernie Sanders and Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez, who are called Progressives now, are off kilter, as are the hard right-wingers that took over my Republican Party with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and again with Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for Goldwater nor did I vote for Trump. I proudly cast votes for Nixon, Reagan, two George Bush’s, John McCain and Mitt Romney. I did have some problems with Romney, but he was totally superior to Obama. Some people would say that I come from the middle-of-the-road, some would say I’m liberal others — say I’m conservative. A more accurate description would be:
“National defense hawk, smaller government, taxes-are-the-price-we-pay- for-civilization, internationalist, pro-immigration, policeman-of-the-world, free trader and passionate Constitutionalist and civil rights/civil liberties advocate.”
I mentioned earlier that religion interests me. The practice of it interests me more than the content. Why? For the simple reason that I gauge a country’s freedom by the right to exercise one’s religion. The same for freedom to express oneself and for a free press.
For example, the National Enquirer has been stupid for stupid people, but it not only can exist in the U.S. it should exist. In other words, the first amendment to the US constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and its exercise, freedom to speak, assemble, petition the government and to publish –In my mind, these items rank the first amendment as number one. The second amendment is constantly under barrage but without it we could not be a free country. Ranking with the second amendment is the fourth which guarantees the right to be secure in our persons and homes. If you come to arrest me, or search my car or my financial records, better have a judge- signed warrant. If you do arrest me, the 5th amendment protects my right to not say a word, and not be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
The sixth guarantees me a speedy, public trial and an impartial jury And, let’s not forget the Supreme Court approved Miranda warning — a lawyer. The tenth amendment flatly states that the federal government is limited in what it can do and, that anything not specifically reserved for it and not prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people.
The 13th, eliminated slavery. The 14th guarantees equal protection of and enforcement of the law, due process of law and natural born citizenship. The 15th guarantees the right to vote. The Constitution tells Americans that “the whole number of persons” in a state shall be counted in the census, not just U.S. citizens like hard right know-nothings — who obviously can’t read — would prefer to do.
My view of the United States of America is influenced by my childhood as a little Spanish-speaking boy in the Mexican neighborhood of San Diego, California. My third grade teacher assigned me to children new to America from Mexico who, like me, didn’t speak English when I started school. They learned English like I did, by other kids.
My life changed when I was five and went with all the kids from the Neighborhood House, my home away from home, on buses to the gigantic United States Naval base, just blocks from my home for a Thanksgiving/Christmas party hosted by sailors and Marines, a party for kids who probably didn’t have much of a Thanksgiving or Christmas.
A Navy man with gold braid on his hat and a Christian cross on his collar greeted us. The Padre welcomed us in Spanish and English. He welcomed 200 American kids. It was the first time anyone called me an American; the huge dinner we ate was the first Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce I had ever seen much less eaten.
We kids carried our trays through the chow line just like sailors and Marines did, served by sailors and Marines; that was the most food I had ever seen in my life. The food was free and terrific. I thought this is how people ate in heaven. Imagine my surprise years later when I found out that turkeys came from Mexico as did sweet potatoes and corn; that potatoes came from Peru. The US has only one item in the Thanksgiving dinner, cranberries. They’re OK but the dinner would be better with Mexican avocados.
I have never forgotten that first Thanksgiving, nor the Marine who handed me my Christmas gift — a set of Lincoln Logs and, of course, the fabulous endless food. On an August day in 1959, the 1946 scene flashed across my mind the first time I walked into the mess hall at the Marine Recruit Depot on my first day in “Boot Camp.” This time, I looked up to the heavens and commented out loud “all I can eat and they are paying me too.” I calculated I earned 11 cents-an-hour, 24/7, clothes, a place to sleep, though sometimes it was a hole in the ground and all I could eat. Being a United States Marine was-a-million-times better than sacking groceries for a dollar-an-hour while sandwiching in a full load of college courses at San Diego State. You might say that that August day and the day I graduated from Boot Camp to become a United States Marine topped the day an American first called me an American. Just barely.
So, here we are today, a political-junkie American born in Mexico who manages to speak English and Spanish, who has never missed voting in an American election, who has toiled as a professional politico, a businessman, a banker, a U.S. Marine, a journalist for thirty years who has worked in radio and television and witnessed the world and the United States change immensely since I first walked on U.S. soil when I was three in the middle of World War Two.
I remember when the war ended and all the men in my neighborhood came home from the Army and Marines. No parades, few jobs and $20 a week for 52 weeks separation pay.
I remember Election Night in 1948 when the radio kept saying there was no winner for President because California hadn’t reported yet; I didn’t understand, because it was dark outside and my mother had voted hours before. Wasn’t her vote counted yet?
I remember a Sunday in June 1950 when I heard on the radio that a Korean army had invaded Korea. Confused me. But when I stopped the Good Humor man to buy an ice cream bar –what used to be a nickel was now a dime, I instantly recognized that as being caused by the new war.
I remember my police officer step-father being hired by the professional baseball club, the Pacific Coast league San Diego Padres, to walk around the gameday ballpark in uniform as security. On Saturday and Sunday day games I went along; we entered the ballpark through the player’s entrance and locker room. Baseball! I loved it. The Padres had just brought in a Black rookie from Cuba named Minnie Minoso. He didn’t speak English so I translated for him. He went on to be a pioneer American League Black player, a Chicago White Sox player for over 20 years; he was one of the best baseball players ever. He called me Chico.
I remember my 7th grade Social Studies teacher taking me to the principal’s office because I wouldn’t take my “I Like Ike” button off when she told me to. She had a “Stevenson for President” bumper sticker on her car, so did my mother. She was furious when the principal said I could wear my button. The first amendment touched me when I was 11. I found out later he had been an Army captain, a company commander of an infantry company that landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, commanded by –the very Ike on my button.
I remember the red cap and gown I wore the day I graduated from high school becoming the first in my family ever to graduate from high school.
I remember my first day in college as a 17-year-old freshman. I was the first in the family to attend college. Five months later, my first “A’ grade was posted on a bulletin board outside the office of my Physical Geography teacher that matched my History of the America’s, “A,” and an “A” in the required P.E. class I took, Tennis. How I laughed at my grade in Tennis, a sport only one Mexican American had ever succeeded at, Pancho Gonzales from the East L.A. Barrio. I played tennis until I was in my Fifties, sometimes for hours. I’m still laughing.
I remember my first paid political job with a Los Angeles political firm that would become famous by electing Ronald Reagan California Governor and America’s President. The first paid job was San Diego campaign coordinator for the 1962 reelection of United States Senator Tom Kuchel, the man who replaced Richard Nixon when he became Vice-President. It was basically a “gofer” job but it led to being named a state co-chairman for one of Richard Nixon’s 1962 campaign committees for governor. He lost that year but came roaring back to be elected President in 1968. Politics led me to be hired as the youngest North American horse racing track executive in 1967. I was named Public Relations Director for the famous two-and-a-half-decade-old Agua Caliente Race Track in Tijuana Mexico, less than two miles from Southern California and its huge population of horse race fans.
I remember all the political people I used to run errands for calling me to ask for campaign funds because I was the company “Republican” for a huge rich company run by California hot shot Democrats. I was 26 years old.
Four years later, after the track had burned to the ground, I well remember all those political people I used to run errands for and raised tons of money for their candidates; I remember them well for when I announced my run for a San Diego City Council seat, a seat with no incumbent in a district I grew up in and was 20 percent Mexican. Did those people step up with money and support; if they had I would have been the first ever Mexican American to be elected to the council since San Diego became an American city in 1850, 121 years before.
One of those, a chairman/owner of a huge Savings and Loan that hounded me for $5000 for Ronald Reagan’s reelection as governor, a $5000 I personally delivered to Reagan on a visit to San Diego. When I asked the chairman for help in my campaign he had me see his secretary who gave me an envelope with a $20 bill in it. I ran 5th in a field of nine. I never ran again. It wasn’t until 20 years later that a Mexican American candidate who wasn’t first appointed was elected to the city council. I supported him.
The world has changed drastically since I walked across the border bridge between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, in 1943. The country changed too. I am lucky to have seen and experienced the change.
America, despite its problems, is the best country ever. Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump, as bad at being President as they were –Did not stop, they only paused our trip to the Shining City on the Hill, our journey continues despite them.
With this podcast, I hope to move us closer to that SHINING CITY ON THE HILL.
I’ll do that here, On the Contreras Report, AN Hispanic view of the USA.
I trust you will be challenged by what I say, I trust you will agree with me some of the time and don’t curse me much when you don’t.
Just keep one thing in mind, as my Marine Corps Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Nathanial Williams III used to tell me and the other 18-19 year old boys he turned into men, I may not always be right, BUT, I AM NEVER WRONG.