By Daniel Garza
September 24, 2015
IDEAS
Daniel Garza is executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that empowers the U.S. Hispanic community.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is facing criticism for saying Tuesday that “we should not have a multicultural society.” This statement isn’t a gaffe; it summarizes an important reason for America’s success. Our nation is great because immigrants who come to the United States embrace our American ideals and put them first.

There is not now, and there has never been, a nation such as America. For centuries, untold millions have come here–from every corner of the Earth, from every race and religion, from every economic class. If you think about it, you might expect America to be composed of scores of angry factions, each seeking to gain an advantage, or to settle old grudges. After all, that happens almost everywhere in the world.

But America is different. People of every imaginable heritage have come to live in harmony, and to make our country greater. Immigrants cherish their immigrant heritage, and celebrate their culture. But values like democracy, free enterprise, tolerance, love of country, community–those come first. And they must continue to come first, if our United States are to remain strong and undivided.

Take the experience of my family–and that of many in the Latino community. Latinos have not been anonymous, blurred faces filling in the background of our nation’s political, social or cultural landscapes. We are not merely character actors in a Hollywood movie, looking askance as the camera focuses on the true protagonist of the unfolding drama that is the American experience.

We have contributed our own voice and talents to America’s social and cultural scene, and we have readily bestowed hard labor and our entrepreneurial dynamism to our national economy. There are also our contributions to public policy, science, literature, art, music, and education that deserve acknowledgement. Latinos contribute in faith, agriculture, medicine, sports, and more.

And there are the wars. The blood of our children, spilled on foreign battlefields defending our nation, delivers a costly seat at the American table. From the accounts of selfless courage and valor that unfolded in the battlefields of Guadalcanal, Okinawa, and Normandy Beach in World War II to the bloody theaters in Ka-San during the Korean War, the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War, and the taking of Baghdad in the Gulf War.

We have endured mistreatment and animosity by those who would prefer we not exist, that we leave or that we be deported. And we have been beneficiaries of extraordinary kindness and incredible generosity from fellow Americans. We have taken from America, and we have given to America.

We are currently 55 million strong, but there are millions who came before us, and millions sure to come after us. We owe them the America we were born into or the America we arrived to—one that values their diversity, their creed and their religion. But mostly, Latinos join their fellow Americans to preserve and shield our nation’s founding charters—which make the American Dream possible—a Declaration of Independence that secures equal opportunity and equal shot at success by having pursued your happiness; a Constitution that rewards self reliance, hard work, and personal responsibility; and a Bill of Rights that places a primacy on the individual over the state.

America has embraced many cultures–it’s true. But we have succeeded because our multicultural tale is a shared story of common allegiance, of interdependence, aspiration, forbearance, faith and family. It is a story of how the collective experience has helped to shape public policy, our sentiments, ideologies and even our prejudices. It’s a story of gratitude for all that this exceptional nation has bestowed upon us as individuals. And it is a story of what we have achieved as a nation, together, despite our cultural differences. As Americans, we must recognize and value the sacrifices and contributions made by every ethnicity, cultural and race, duty bound by our love of country and the idea of America.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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