We hear the cries to seal off the border. “Keep America for Americans” goes the plaint. Of course “Americans” means U.S. citizens. Far more Americans live outside our borders than inside, but like everybody else I’ll use the term for simplicity’s sake.

If the term American is a bit misleading, how about the definition of American citizen? Could we in our zeal to close off the border keep our own citizens out of their own country?

It’s happened and we ought to know about it. How’s that old saw go about “to ignore history is to repeat it?” Might that be appropriate when we have vigilantes patrolling the border?

Here’s a tale of a pretty successful American. Armando Rodriguez could be a Horatio Alger success story. This 84-year-old El Cajon resident, originally hailing from Palacio Gomez in the center of Mexico, was held back by his father from entering the first grade because he didn’t know enough English to compete in Barrio Logan’s Abraham Lincoln Elementary School.

A few years later young Horatio/Armando earned his first American dollars by selling shards of ice he picked up off the floor of the ice house. He was more successful at that than he was when he tried to sell leftover tamales to housewives in a Mexican-American neighborhood. In any case “Mando” as he became known, sold all sorts of things. Money was at a premium in Logan Heights in the depression. It got worse for the Rodriguez family when his father was taken away for about eight years. Still, Mando persevered and made things happen. A mere 700 words will not cover his life. That’ll have to wait on his forthcoming autobiography.

But our Horatio Alger with a Spanish accent ended up with a master’s degree in special education and two honorary doctorates. He has a list of accomplishments as long as his arm, perhaps longer than his arm. They’re rather short. After all, he’s a mere 5’4″ tall. That surely made him the smallest first string lineman ever to earn a letter at San Diego State. He did that in 1945 as a running guard for coach Bob Breitbard. If you find a smaller lineman, let me know.

He also became a junior high school principal, head of three large government agencies, and president of East Los Angeles College. In almost every case he was the first Hispanic to hold the position.

And he was very lucky to have even been allowed to live in our country. A 2001 Los Angeles Times article was forwarded to me by Christie, Mando’s daughter. It told of how, when her father was 12, INS agents swooped down on the Los Angeles community of La Palacia, gathered up 400 obviously illegal aliens (obvious because they spoke English with a Spanish accent) and “repatriated” them to their homeland.

The raids were instigated in 1931 by the onset of the Depression. American jobs were at stake. They were continued until 1940, when we needed labor to fight a bigger problem than American jobs. During that decade about a million Hispanics were ousted.

What does this have to do with Mando? His dad, Andres, was one who was scooped from an employment line in one of the raids. The INS guys “urged” him to return to Mexico with the suggestion “you’ll be much better off.” The message was clear and Andres took the hint. He stayed south of the border for about eight years.

Andres hadn’t done anything illegal. He had legal immigration papers when he crossed in 1926. Mando still has the papers to show it. His father was one of about a million Hispanics sent south.

So? They were foreigners, right? Well, no, they just “looked” foreign and sounded foreign, at least to the ears of the INS guys. According to a 1995 book “Decade of Betrayal,” by Francisco E. Balderrama, a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles, “Officials later discovered that 60 percent of those deported had been born in the United States.” You can’t get more American than to have been born here!

Could the decade of betrayal happen again?

Ask those vigilante guys on the border.

Did I say vigilante?

Dipsey Dumpster sometimes writes under the pseudonym Keith Taylor. He can be reached at KRTaylorxyz@aol.com.

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