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The idea of America is wasted on most Americans. We don’t know how good we have it. People are literally dying to get here.

The body count has risen since the Clinton administration launched Operation Gatekeeper south of San Diego in the mid-1990s. Militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border forced immigrants into the Arizona desert. Thousands died.

The liberal media largely ignored that story, because the president who created the chaos on the border was a Democrat. Just like they slept through the Obama administration’s policy of separating families, caging kids and dumping the U.S.-born children of deportees into foster care.

But now that Donald Trump is president, the Fourth Estate is the first in line to protect immigrants and refugees. It’s refreshing, but also ridiculous.

America doesn’t always live up to the brochure. We’re a nation of immigrants that has never liked immigrants. We offer freedom to the “huddled masses” and then put their children in cages.

People don’t like hearing that. Just in time for the Fourth of July, a reader chimed in: “I wish you stopped being more Mexican than American.”

My Mexican-born wife chuckled. I bleed red, white and blue. I can quote Thomas Jefferson, but I’m weak on Benito Juarez. I’m a Mexican American Yankee Doodle Dandy, a real live nephew of my Uncle Samuel.

Three of my grandparents were born in the United States. On my mom’s side of Tejanos, my kids are the sixth generation born in this country.

What set off the reader wasn’t Mexicans, but Central Americans. Apparently, we all look alike.

I had criticized the Trump administration for its sadistic treatment of refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The problem isn’t that Border Patrol agents — who are not trained as social workers — aren’t providing soap. It’s that they’re taking away hope.

I say this not as a Mexican, but as an American. When I go to bat for the little guy, it’s because my blood — the red, white and blue — is boiling.

Mexican Americans are often accused of keeping the United States at arm’s length. Yet, historically, it’s been the other way around.

By the way, I know many of you despise the phrase “Mexican American.” My empathetic “Mexican” side tells me to be sensitive to your concerns. But my ornery “American” side tells me not to care. The American won out.

The World War II generation of Mexican Americans — who perished at Pearl Harbor, stormed the beaches at Normandy and survived the Bataan Death March even if their heroism was not always recorded by history books or Hollywood — went into the service as “Mexicans.” But when they came home, confident that they had done their share, they added the “American” part.

My parents — who are in the so-called Silent Generation and now in their late 70s — wanted nothing more than to be accepted as full-fledged Americans. Sadly, America wouldn’t oblige. They endured racism and discrimination, and they were always made to feel inferior.

Then came the baby boom. Talk to those aging Chicanos who are now in their 60s and early 70s, and they’ll tell you that — when they were marching against the Vietnam War, or in support of civil rights — all they wanted was for America to keep her promise.

As the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who came here legally but with empty pockets, my inspiration for sticking up for the voiceless doesn’t come from the long line of Mexican presidents who — as reverse Robin Hoods — took from the poor and gave to the rich. To heck with them.

My inspiration comes from John F. Kennedy, a U.S. president, who in his 1961 inaugural address called upon Americans and people around the world to “heed in all corners of the Earth the command of Isaiah to ‘undo the heavy burdens and to let the oppressed go free.’”

For me, being an American is about cherishing freedom, defending the powerless, and making right what we get wrong. It’s about welcoming strangers, caring for victims, and letting wanderers write a new chapter. It’s about answering the call when people need liberating — even if sometimes we answer late. And it’s about gratitude for a country that took in our parents and grandparents even though they didn’t have high SAT scores.

What being an American is not about is taking the easy road. Americans will always know extraordinary challenges. Because we are no ordinary people.

Happy Fourth of July.

Ruben Navarrette ruben@rubennavarrette.com Copyright The Washington Post