Tag: Italians

Going Incognito

In the good old days, you could always tell who was what.

For example, just a few decades ago, every Latino in America — at least according to pop culture — was Mexican with dark brown skin, and probably worked as a gardener. I mean, it was pretty simple for Americans to get out their handy bucket of clichés and then start stuffing Latinos into them.

Life was simple.

But then things got messy. Hispanics started coming in different shades, with terms like “second generation” banded about, and not all of them spoke Spanish, and some even went to college when nobody was looking. And don’t even get us started on “Latinx.”

Yes, it’s gotten so complex that very real questions about identity and culture are cartwheeling through the Latino community, with the result that voices get raised, metaphysical quandaries turn into quagmires, and your basic simple-minded racist can’t even keep straight whom he is supposed to hate now.

Because the truth is that “Hispanic identity is fluid to begin with,” and “the gray area that Latinos inhabit in this country’s historical black/white binary inevitably leads to shifts in identification.”

Basically, who or what is Latino has always been a question, and it has never been more open to debate. Even age-old signifiers of culture are fading away.

For example, even in my generation, just about every Hispanic person was also Catholic. Being a member of La Raza and displaying an almost fanatical devotion to the pope was a natural combo.

But leave it to those wild, trend-setting, selfie-lovin’ youngsters — the millennials — to mess with that.

You see, “Latino millennials, overall, are becoming less religious the more they assimilate to American culture.”

Yes, we could point out that this might not be Latinos assimilating to America, as much as the other way around, but let’s save that debate for another time.

The basic truth is that “the longer Latinos are in the United States and the more Americanized they become, the more secularized they become.” In fact, “the fastest growing [religious] group among millennials is the nones” (i.e., those who align with no specific religion).

Of course, many of these Latinos are still spiritual, in their own individualistic kind of way, but many others are becoming straight-up atheists, a trend that is also true for America overall.

I guess many Hispanics are finally asking exactly what, other than eat up a lot of their Sundays, has the Catholic Church ever done for them. Personally, I believe this is a very fair question.

However, for now, let’s turn our attention to another sign that it is getting more and more difficult to pinpoint those Latinos among us.

A recent study has found that “although recent immigrants identify as Hispanic at a rate of almost 90 percent, this number drops to around 50 percent after the fourth generation.”

The reasons for this are complex. One motivator is simple self-loathing, as many Latinos who can pass for white sometimes prefer to do so. Another variable is fear, because slipping below the radar of Trump supporters is “a strong motivation for avoiding identification as Hispanic.”

Some commentators theorize that the lessening of ethnic pride “in later generations can be due to increased assimilation.”

Finally, there is the fact that the longer Latinos live in America, the more likely they are to intermarry with other groups and produce multiethnic children, and this can lead to “U.S.-born Hispanics who sometimes find their identities challenged by natives of their home countries who don’t think they’re Hispanic enough, and come off as too American.”

Regardless of the specific reason, at present, “11 percent of adults with Hispanic ancestry do not identify as such, and 23 percent of Hispanics most often refer to themselves as ‘American.’”

So what does it all mean? Well, it could indicate that in the near future, Latinos will be considered white Americans, whether they want to be or not.

Indeed, many people have pointed out the historical parallels to the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews — all of whom were considered non-white until the intensity of cultural change and the force of societal pressure suddenly made each of them, more or less, white.

Or maybe white people just got together for a secret vote and decided to let the O’Reillys and the Rizzos and the Goldsteins in — I don’t know for sure.

Regardless, it is undeniable that it is a time of great change for Latinos, and this shift can be difficult to notice when Hispanics have more concrete issues on their minds — like surviving three more years of a xenophobic toddler who would gladly depart everyone with a Z in their last name.

But it is happening.

Life is no longer so simple.

 


A Sort of Madness

You can imagine my alarm when I first heard the term “immigrant psychosis.”

Evidently, this was a very real issue back when Ellis Island was booming, and lots of Italians and Irish people were coming off the boats and making everything in America all weird and strange and different.

Psychologists of the time identified a malady common to the recent arrivals, and these professionals dubbed it “immigrant psychosis.”

Today, we know it by a more common name: Homesickness

Yes, most of the American doctors were generations removed from their immigrant roots, and they had no experience living someplace new and exotic. As such, the concept of homesickness was unknown to them.

headmirror

So when immigrants displayed odd behaviors such as depression and anxiety — combined with the bizarre new emotion of nostalgia — the psychologists gave it a name and insisted it was confined to the Irish and Italians (and maybe those Chinese people too).

Of course, we now recognize homesickness as a common complaint of everyone from college students to people on long overseas trips. It’s hardly a psychosis.

But unfortunately, today’s immigrants often have more to deal with than a bout of sad sentimentality. A recent study found that “the stress and hardship faced by immigrants setting up in a new country could be contributing to an increased risk of psychosis” among new arrivals.

Basically, more immigrants are having issues adjusting to their new lives. And when they do encounter these problems, they have more difficulty getting the mental health assistance that they require.

The study added that “racism and discrimination are certainly one of many things that are contributing” to the increasing mental distress of immigrants.

So this is fresh proof that the whole nativist attitude is psychotic (or at least contributes to it forming).

It’s almost enough to make one yearn for a simpler time… which is ironic because excessive yearning is a sign of homesickness, which is how all this started in the first place. Damn.

 


More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


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