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By Mari D. Gonzalez
1810-2010: Identity of Blended People
The more blended people in the Southern Hemisphere of America began the tedious task of being named, boxed, and “other-ed” by their settlers five centuries ago. Mexican as a nationality came about exactly two centuries ago when “La Nueva España” gained independence in 1810 and it named itself Mexico after its indigenous roots.
There wasn’t neither a country named Mexico nor “Mexicans” before then. The process for Mexicans to develop their own cultural identity began with the Mexican Revolution and culminated with La Epoca de Oro, The Golden Era, of cinema in the 1950’s and with the amazing proliferation of world-class visual art by icons such as Khalo, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco who exposed a rather dignifying Mexican working class and their popular culture.
Mexicans, as any other labeled people, do not represent a particular classification but “una amalgama” between the already ethnically diverse Spaniards whose background could have been Arabic, Jew, Celt, or other from that well-mixed Southern region; slaves from Africa; and the local indigenous peoples.
“Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds”
Latin Americans, as did Latin Europeans, continue to mix and blend. According to scholar and historian Gregory Rodriguez’ (2007) research reported on his book “Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America,” the majority of second- and third-generation Latinos marry outside their own ethnicity.
Latinos, people with origins in Latin America, have already gone through what this country is about to. This census year, the task of boxing people, who from the beginning of history have blended despite legal, religious, and social limitations, will be incommensurable.
Hopefully, this tediousness will prompt us to give up classifying people solely on physical appearance.
My academic research paper “Interactive Food & Beverage Marketing: Targeting Latino Youth in the Digital Age” has been published on the first issue of the Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation (JIAL).
By Mari D. González
As a Mexican household name who has made it into the English-language media, George Lopez is mainstreaming Latinos for which he is considered by many a hero. He uses the most recognizable and marketable Latino symbol —Spanish language— just enough to remind you that he is one from the hood. He is not political correct. He can dispose of cursing republicans publicly and yet, he has a large following across blacks, whites, Asians, and Latinos alike.
So, What Is His Formula?
His Lopez Tonight Show is multicultural. He brings in and interviews white- and black-American celebrities. His diverse band plays diverse music and more importantly, he gets into issues that are close to Latinos and working-class Americans openly.
He brings in the urban flair popular among younger generations which has given way to fashionable music including regaetton, rap, and hip pop. He invites regular people to his show and make them feel at home, showing them respect and consideration.
He dresses elegantly. His shows around the country are sold-out, “even in a down economy” as he put it. His state-of-the-art studio is filled up with young people of all shades who will certainly come out with additional Spanish-language words that they did not or would not learn from their Spanish high school teacher.
Exploiting Culture and Humor
He brings racial issues into the open and even asks his guests for their opinion on them. He can certainly poke at Latinos and for that matter, working-class blacks and whites alike, because he is one of them. He grew up with those experiences; he is an insider and cannot be guilty of prejudice. He can be forgiven by those he represents for he talks about what he lived and endured. He is one of them thus, he can laugh at them.
There is a free flow at his shows. He converses with his audience and feels equally comfortable interviewing Clint Eastwood or the black pregnant dancer in a Corona bikini. He swiftly shifts between social classes and across ethnicities and that is a real skill.
He is attempting to demystify the difference between one’s ethnic label in the U.S. and one’s DNA. And, whether or not he is accurate, it is not the issue. The issue is that he is starting up these conversations in English-language national media.
De or Re-politicizing Chicanos
He is depoliticizing the term “Chicano” by calling himself “Tall, Dark and Chicano” among his fans who are beyond Latinos. Yet, he makes you feel that the Low Rider is still cool while he angrily gets into the political debate as to why some republicans did not vote for Sotomayor.
He might no be the funniest of all or even funny at all but, he has what a great majority of the U.S., so called, minorities have been waiting for –a charming, dark-skinned guy from a poor upbringing who is still in touch with his parent’s culture and has been able to secure a spot not in ethnic but in regular mainstream media where many with more influence have not made it.
Forget about his humor, which I can only stand for a few minutes, that ranges from off-color, vulgar, and borders black comedy. Even for those who find his jokes offensive, he is still looked up to and respected for he can definitely arouse multicultural crowds.
Last year, I wrote a paper for school on the meaning of the terms Latino and Hispanic according to the people being categorized. Aside from the literature review, I interviewed eight self-identified Latinos or Hispanics and these were my findings.
Since its inception by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1977, the term Hispanic has been both controversial and accepted by different circles to categorize people with ancestry in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries of the Western hemisphere. Some argue that choosing one label over the other is a matter of assimilation while others choose a label to state pride of having developed an agreeable ethnic identity. Several authors (Martin, 2005; Acuña, 2000; Gonzales, 1999; Rodriguez, 2007) acknowledge the political implications behind the choice of a specific label. Martin (2005) in particular proposes to analyze the term Latino in the context of “reinterpretation” of an existing name that has sprung from political movements dating back to the 1960’s (p. 397). Other researchers (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005; Rodriguez, 2007; Davila, 2001) recognize a different and significant dynamic – the capitalizing of the consumer power through the use of the label Hispanic which is representative of a common linguistic indicator.
The term Hispanic is inaccurate because is not perceived by the receivers as representative of their “broader culture” and because it implies that “all” Latino/Hispanic speak Spanish. The term Hispanic does however speak of the Spanish colonization from which the Spanish language was instituted. Yet, not all people who live in Latin America speak Spanish such as the many Indigenous people across the continent. The term Hispanic however, is seen as convenient through the use of census data to make the case for the allocation of funds that support language-based social service programs and for marketers and advertisers to sell Spanish media programs by arguing that if not all, the majority of Hispanics prefer to speak Spanish.
Individuals who are more aware of the labels’ socio-politics argue that neither the term Hispanic nor Latino applies to them because they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes more commonly attached to Mexican immigrants and people of Mexican descent who have dealt with a second colonization by historically being categorized as second-class group since the time their first-class citizenship rights were stripped off them in the nineteen century when the U.S. west border moved further south.
Californians in contrast to New Mexicans prefer using the term Latino(a) when given the choice between Latino(a) and Hispanic. For more educated Californians, “Latino” is the new Chicano in that it evokes their indigenous roots, a shared history of struggle and the colonization of the people in Latin American countries. Latino as a term is self-appropriated; it comes from the people which might have been the legacy from the Chicano movement. It is not surprising that Latinos in California are more aware of the political connotation of the term Latino because Chicano studies departments are at many state universities in the Southwestern United States, particularly in California.