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The mariachi singer is more American than his critics

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
June 17, 2013 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Chris Botti's November 3 performance of the national anthem during a "Monday Night Football" game left one Indianapolis Colts player in tears, with viewers at home calling it one of the best they've ever heard. Performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" can be risky business, though; here's what happened during some memorable past renditions. Chris Botti's November 3 performance of the national anthem during a "Monday Night Football" game left one Indianapolis Colts player in tears, with viewers at home calling it one of the best they've ever heard. Performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" can be risky business, though; here's what happened during some memorable past renditions.
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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
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
Highs and lows of the national anthem
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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.

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