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Posted June 18, 2003 by publisher in US Embargo

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Gregory Tejeda | United Press International

When Cuban pop singer Carlos Manuel entered the United States last week with his family, it punched another hole in the notion that Hispanic people are an identical brown mass.

Manuel’s ethnicity allowed him to walk into the United States and be greeted with open arms by U.S. immigration officials in Texas when he requested political asylum.

Had he been Mexican or any other Spanish-influenced ethnicity, federal authorities would have forcibly ejected him for being so brazen as to try to openly enter the United States.

It is an example of how the Hispanic perspective on immigration—like many other issues—varies depending on what nationality one belongs to.

For Cubans, U.S. foreign policy is so determined to embarrass Fidel Castro that the U.S. government openly encourages Cuban people to come and accepts virtually anyone who makes it to U.S. soil.

Manuel (his stage name, his real name is Carlos Pruneda) defected along with several family members while on an international tour that had him performing last week in Mexico City.

After that concert, he caught a commercial flight to Monterrey. He was driven by van to the border town of Matamoros. Then, he took a walk across the bridge over the Rio Grande, entering the United States at Brownsville, Texas, with Mexican television crews following him to record the moment of defection.

After two days in the custody of immigration officials and the Homeland Security Department, Manuel and his family were released. They intend to relocate to Miami, where he will become a high-profile part of the anti-Castro propaganda mechanism that makes South Florida different from the rest of the United States.

“The repression of the recent months (in Cuba) was one of the main aspects of my decision” to defect, he told The New York Times. “It kind of crept into regular life.”

This isn’t meant to denounce Manuel, who said he intends to continue his career in Spanish-language pop music and will resume promoting a new CD “Enamora’o.” To Manuel, his journey was harrowing and an experience he will never forget.

But only a Cuban could have such an easy time entering the United States. Anyone else trying to walk across the bridge from Matamoros to Brownsville would have been laughed at before being turned away. For those people who want to improve their quality of life but have no hope of getting a visa to enter the country openly, they would have had to slip in under cover of darkness through desert or mountain routes that are dangerous because they are so isolated.

More than 300 non-citizens per year during the past three years have been found dead in mountain or desert regions of Texas, Arizona or New Mexico while trying to cross the Mexico-U.S. border. In all, 2,355 have been found dead since 1995.

Such behavior can be seen as proof of the desperate situation some people face that they are willing to risk their physical well being in hopes of a better lot in life, although there are those who insist on trying to spin such activity as mere criminal behavior.

They are the ones who rant about immigration causing problems, and talk of trying to restore limits on the number of immigrants entering the United States—usually wanting to reinstate decades-old levels that were in place back when U.S. immigration was European-oriented rather than the Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern masses who now come.

That also is what motivates some individuals to create citizen border patrol groups with names such as Civil Homeland Defense and U.S. Border Patrol. They carry firearms and have been known to abuse the people they stumble across.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has gone so far as to sue one group, Ranch Rescue, on behalf of four Mexican and two Salvadoran citizens who claim they were beaten severely by over-zealous members in Arizona.

The group has had to curtail its activities because of the lawsuit. Attorney Kelly Bruner of the law center, which usually focuses its attention on white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations, said his “goal is to put the group (Ranch Rescue) out of business.”

Now I know that Cubans have faced life-threatening conditions to make the 100-mile journey from their island to Florida. Many have died before seeing land.

But they face a virtual welcoming committee if they arrived in the United States. For other Hispanics, the difficulties get worse once they actually get here.

Manuel can openly talk about resuming his music career and of buying a Miami home. Other newcomers have to stay in a virtual underground society (as many as 9 million undocumented people in the United States) that leaves them susceptible to scams.

Then, there is the unique case of Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens by birth because their island is a U.S. territory. Immigration is a non-issue to them.

That doesn’t stop some non-Hispanics from making fools of themselves by mistaking Puerto Ricans for other ethnicities or referring to them as illegal aliens.

That was the point of a recent gag on the animated feature “South Park,” which had Cartman playing with a Jennifer Lopez puppet that parodied Senor Wences and sang songs about enjoying tacos and burritos, which are Mexican.

Besides, going from Puerto Rico to a multi-cultured place like New York is no different legally and probably less of a culture shock than someone who shows up in the Big Apple from Mississippi.

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