Tag: cultural identity

Plot Twist

My wife is pregnant.

Yes, it’s pretty great news.

Our daughter is due in January. We’ve never been parents, so by next summer, I’ll be one of those annoying first-time fathers who believes the most important thing in the world is his baby’s capacity for drool. Just wait, I’ll be blogging about it day and night. This may cut into the readership of the 19.3 million mommy bloggers out there, so I apologize in advance for usurping their authority.

But with all the hectic preparation for the child’s arrival, and careful time set aside for crippling self-doubt and solipsistic panic attacks, I’ve barely had time to ponder the political ramifications of this kid. That has to change.

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Just Hanging on the Hacienda

As we all know, Hispanic culture has contributed much to the United States. A quick glance at the artistic, political, and social makeup of the nation confirms that Latinos are prime instigators when it comes to plotting the direction of the country.

Many of our new values have their roots in Latin America. However, there is one concept from the old world that should not be welcome here. Ironically, it is U.S. powerbrokers — people unlikely to be Latino — who are most clamoring for it to gain a foothold in this country.

I’m talking about the encomienda system, which hasn’t formally existed for hundreds of years, but which has never really gone away. Briefly, the encomienda system was set up by the Spanish Conquistadors, who divided Latin America among themselves. An encomienda was a land grant that gave a Spaniard property rights over Indian labor. Basically, the conquistador got a hacienda and indentured servants to make him rich.

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No More Getting Pushed Around

When I was a kid, my mother provoked a controversy in our neighborhood by demanding more funding for local schools. She even got in the mayor’s face about it during a public hearing.

Our neighbors, as well as the people who went to our church, were scandalized. It wasn’t that anyone disagreed with her about the pathetic state of the schools. No, what caused them to whisper among themselves was the fact that she had spoken up about it.

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Defining My Terms

Right away, I’m likely to piss somebody off. This is because I’m wading into the whole “Hispanic” vs. “Latino” lexicon fistfight. You may not know this, particularly if you are of the Anglo persuasion, but there is an ongoing debate over which term accurately identifies people whose ancestors come from somewhere south of modern-day Texas. 

This area encompasses over twenty countries spread around Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Add to this fact that many of these countries have multiple cultures with diverse customs and even different languages, and it quickly becomes clear that coming up with one word to identify all these people is like calling everything you put in your mouth “food.”

But in America, at least, we have narrowed the choices down to “Latino” or “Hispanic.” Each comes loaded with political baggage. Say “Latino” to a brown-skinned person, and you might receive a snappish “I don’t speak Latin!” in response. Refer to someone as “Hispanic” and you could hear that the word refers to Spain, the country that “raped my ancestors” or “subjugated the Aztecs” or some other historical atrocity that constitutes a fresh wound to people who have taken too many poli-sci classes.

Special note: the word “Spanish” applies only to a native of Spain or to the language. We tend to hate it when we’re called “Spanish.”

To add to the confusion, many people want their home country to be a reference point. This is particularly big with the Dominicans, the Cubans, and the Puerto Ricans. And self-described Chicanos are likely to seethe with hot-blooded rage (now there’s a stereotype!) if they are called anything other than their preferred term.

But I simply do not have the patience or computer memory to start every post with “speaking of Ecuadorians and Bolivians and Guatemalans and Quechua speakers and Garifuna immigrants…”

So I’ve decided to use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” to encompass the whole damn ethnic pie. And I will use the words interchangeably. I do this because I think both words are perfectly legit, and there’s no need for a lucha over them. I also do this for the sake of linguistic variety in these posts. Along those lines, I will probably also sprinkle in the terms “brown scourge,” “swarthy dudes,” “hot little tamales,” and “God’s gift to the Western hemisphere,” depending on context.

Therefore, don’t look too deeply into my word choice. The politics of this blog will be clear enough without getting into the hidden subtext of terms I picked just because I was tired and began cutting and pasting at random.

Now that we have that settled, I should mention that regardless of the word I chose, there’s likely to be some debate over what person/group/socioeconomic entity I’m referring to. After all, who constitutes a Latino is often up for grabs.  For example, a half-Anglo blogger in the Midwest (ahem) is probably not whom pollsters are referring to when they laud the monolithic “Hispanic community.”

But that’s another post.


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