Joe Gandelman: Pursuing the American Dream
Yes, it is possible. You can pursue the American dream. And maybe even be on your way to achieving it by age 11. That won’t necessarily stop comments by racists or cretins who think it’s cool and intelligent to stereotype, belittle and insult. But they can’t stop a proud and determined kid from marching, head held high, straight towards that American dream.
And that’s the story of San Antonio’s Sebastien De La Cruz, a young singer who sang his heart out on "America’s Got Talent" and at other venues, pouring virtually his entire being into his vocal renditions, proving that some people are imbued with almost angelical artistic sensitivity. If De La Cruz is living the American dream, the Internet get-a-lifers who went after him due to his high profile seemed to be talking in their racist sleep — and lost big time in the end.
News accounts note that at age 6, De La Cruz wanted to learn how to sing mariachi songs. And since most kids are little sponges, with work and practice he honed his craft and soaked up what he needed to know. He sang at community events, and with his beautiful, proud, strong voice soon became known in Texas as: "El Charro de Oro" (the Golden Mariachi).
He was also the virtual embodiment of a slogan, "Anything You Can Imagine, You Can Do," California’s Camp Axios uses for its young campers. Each summer, the San Pedro-based non-denominational camping program provides a week of free camping for inner city at risk kids 9 to 13. They fill the days with fun activities and motivational segments to teach kids that if they can think it and dream it, they can do it.
And boy is De La Cruz doing it.
Last year, at age 10, he made through the brutal initial auditions to get onto "America’s Got Talent." He began to cry when telling the judges that by being up there he felt closer to his goal of winning so he could get the money to help his brother have an operation for a hearing problem. He sang the old-time favorite "Besame Mucho," backed by a Mariachi band, then threw a rose to Sharon Osborne.
He was later called back and did a mariachi version of Frank Sinatra’s "New York New York." In the end, he made it to the semi-finals. If he didn’t win the whole contest, he won a national audience’s hearts. And it was not just his age: it was his clear talent, sincerity, and commitment to his cherished art.
During Game Three of the NBA finals country artist Darius Rucker was delayed, so De La Cruz agreed to do the Star Spangled Banner on short notice. He wowed the stadium and home audiences. And then came Twitter:
"This lil Mexican snuck in the country like 4 hours ago no he singing the anthem" wrote one. (De La Cruz was born here) "Why they got a Mexican kid singing the national anthem," wrote another (apparently forgetting about America’s millions of Mexican-Americans). "Can’t believe they had the nerve to have a beaner sing the national anthem of AMERICA..." (De La Cruz’s father served in the Navy).
Was De La Cruz crushed? No. He sent his own Tweet: "Please do not pay attention to the negative people. I am an American living the American Dream. This is part of the American life."
News reports carried Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s reaction: "He’s a class act.
Way more mature than most his age. And as much as those comments by the idiots saddens you about your country, he makes you feel that the future could be very bright."
And so the Spurs invited him back to do the anthem in Game Four.
And he wowed the team and audience again.
Which goes to prove: if you can imagine the American Dream, and don’t let anyone steal it, you can do it.
I suspect we’ll hear a lot about De La Cruz in future years — long after the Tweeting racists and cretins who had their names displayed next to their Tweets will be deservedly forgotten.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.