Ask a Mexican

Where do anchor babies come from?

Dear Mexican: What is an anchor baby? I am a 45-year-old male born in the USA. My mother was born in ex-Yugoslavia (now Serbia), and my father was also born in ex-Yugoslavia (now Croatia). My father arrived in this country via a green card about four years before I was born, and my mother arrived sixteen months before I was born, after being petitioned to enter the United States by my father. I was the very first person in my entire family on both my mother's and father's sides to be born in the U.S. When I was born, my father told my mother that now they will never be deported because they have an American-born son. Many years later, both of my parents became citizens. Today I wonder: Was I an anchor baby? I speak good English, Spanish and some limited Serbian. I don't look Hispanic, but what do I tell my Hispanic friends?

Spanish-Speaking Serbian-American Living in Houston

Dear Yugo: A so-called anchor baby is an American citizen — says so in the United States Constitution. In popular parlance, it's a term used by Know Nothings to deride the children of immigrants whom relatives can use to sponsor visas and other government goodies. Though the Know Nothings would love to have you believe that only illegal Mexicans are capable of having anchor babies, cases like yours have been occurring since the days of Virginia Dare. Not only that, but the etymological roots of "anchor baby" suggest that legal or illegal status doesn't matter; a 1987 Los Angeles Times Magazine (RIP) article examining the burden of young Vietnamese refugees trying to earn enough money to get their family out of refugee camps referred to them as "anchor children."

"Anchor baby," on the other mano, is a slur of a recent provenance — the earliest mainstream media reference the Mexican found was a January 7, 1997, Providence Journal-Bulletin story that quoted Federation for American Immigration Reform president Dan Stein as saying public benefits "encourage immigrant families to conceive 'anchor babies' so they can remain in this country and collect benefits." Stein — whose organization is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — can't claim the creator's mantle for the term, however: The excellent etymology website lists a 1996 Usenet posting as the earliest recorded use of "anchor baby," and I'm sure dinosaurs like the California Coalition for Immigration Reform and other pioneer anti-immigrant pendejos bandied it around before that. As to how all of this relates to you: You weren't an anchor baby. Your parents were already here legally, and your citizenship can't stop your parents from a trip with la migra. Hope this clears up things — and make sure to boil the Houston water before you drink it!