By Oscar M.
¿Qué onda, pues? ¿Qué pasa? ¿Me comprendes, Méndez? ¿Have I lost you, yet? Órale, that means you and I are in the same place. Perdidos/as. But, relax for a second and just follow me. What if—and I’m just spit-balling here, but—what if Latin@/Hispanic isn’t a race nor an ethnicity? What if, instead of listing it as a census category, we just have someone who is Latin@ ask “¿Sabes o no sabes?” and, depending on your reply, you’re categorized?
A lot has been made recently about Hispanics declaring themselves as “white”, and I’m here to tell you that makes me feel extremely ambivalent—deep, deep within my soul stirs an ambiguous neutrality that I simply can’t decide whether is worth expressing. If you can pass for white, if you feel, or ARE, white, why hide or deny it? I hear that kind of thing comes with perks.
What if you’re not, though? What if, despite the census data’s best efforts, your Mestiz@/Afr@/Asiatic@ heritage means “white” isn’t an option? Should the definition of “white” then be changed or modified—as it was for the Irish Americans and Italian Americans?
Well, if you’re Afr@—si eres negr@—you’re Black. If you’re unsure whether or not you’re Black, you may want to double check: this continent has a bit of a complicated history with Black folks.
It’s possible, of course, for someone to identify as Latin@ and White, Black, or/and East Asian. In fact, if you’ve ever lived in or visited a major city in Mexico, Central America, and/or South America, you’ll meet people who do just that.
What about those of us who can’t immediately trace our roots back to the Old World, though? Do we simply throw on the term “Native” and call it a wrap? Nah. Identity is a complicated thing to begin with, and most of us can’t just live—nor SHOULD we live—with a single-word identity.
So then, who or what is a Latin@?
Good question! Let’s consult some media sources:
First, where is Latin America? Admittedly, I’ve not done the most research on this term, but this piece was news to me: Suriname, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad AND Tobago??? When next we celebrate Latin@/Hispanic Heritage month we need to remember to honor such great Latin@s as Bob Marley, Patrick Ewing, Jayson Musson, Edwidge Danticat, Wycleaf Jean, and Nikki Minaj!
Before I get accused of trivializing the very serious issue which this poll sought to explore, please allow me to explain: I think women deserve respect and under no circumstances should be made to feel uncomfortable or threatened. Period.
This issue, however, is worldwide and should be discussed as to how/why it is still happening and what steps can be taken to end it. Instead, often—too, too often—articles like the one above are referenced in order to label certain regions and cultures as “lesser-advanced.” Want another example of such an article? Check out this piece on NPR: “Which Place is More Sexist: the Middle East or Latin America?”
Quickly: 1) WHY IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION? Why is this phrased like this? Why not just come out and say: which foreign people are worse towards women? If the question is “which is worse?” the answer, subtextually, is “Because WE, the free-thinking, progressive country that we are, would NEVER be so primitive.” FYI: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have all had (or have) female heads of state running their respective countries. Your move, rest of the world.
2) Latin America is many things. It is beautiful and complicated and exciting and scary—just like every other place on this planet where people live. Latin@s, likewise, are beautiful and complicated and exciting and scary and and and—just like every other person living on this planet.
So, Latin America is a place.
-Good, we can agree on that much.
Where is Latin America, though? Is it just a catch-all for former European colonies in or around the Americas that aren’t Canada and the US?
What if, instead of trying to make it this far away, exotic “other,” we just say Latin America is a place where a lot of Latin@s live? Good enough? Latin America is where Latin@s live.
-But what/who is a Latin@?
Ah, and here we are again: “What if—and I’m just spit-balling here, but—what if Latin@/Hispanic isn’t a race nor an ethnicity?” Sound familiar?
All right, now that we’re lost in the same place as before, follow me. I think Latin@ is an identity; I believe there are Latin@ cultures; and I feel anyone can be Latin@. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows that to be cool, you’re just cool—you don’t ASK if you’re cool, and you don’t know what makes you cool—you’re just cool. To be Latin@, you’re just Latin@. Am I saying being Latin@ is cool? Chic@! Claro que sí!
Latin@ is an attitude, a way of being, feeling, singing, loving, hurting, laughing etc. Anyone who’s grown up around Latin@s or lives in a Latin@ city knows what I’m talking about and has had equal difficulty expressing this.
I’ve made friends who were born and raised in small towns in Iowa and Minnesota whom, because they live, or have lived, in Latin@ cities for years, I would say know their way around Latin@s, know how to be Latin@. Want to know who’s NOT worried about people who aren’t Latin@ trying to identify as Latin@? Latin@s.
Latin@/Hispanic is no more an ethnicity than “North American” or “Arctic;” it’s not a frat you pledge into; and it’s not a group of people looking to keep outsiders away. Latin America is a place; a place that follows its people and changes as they do.
So where is Latin America? It’s where Latin@s live.
Am I Latino? Sure.
Mexicano? Uh huh.
Brown. Oh, no doubt!
What about you, though?
¿Sabes o no sabes?
Oscar is a poet and writer, originally from Arizona, currently residing in Boston