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The Latino Movement: More about Integration than Differentiation

By Mari D. González

It is not uncommon to read outrageous statements in discussion forums and blog comments. The anonymity of users gives them more freedom to express their individual opinions without a second thought; this tendency is less common when people use their real names.

A few weeks ago, I read this comment on a well-liked Latino blog: “Mexicans have no clue, their Spanish it’s [is] the worst among the Central American people.”

I wrote the following response:

1) Mexico is part of North America not Central America, and NAFTA refers to the North America Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

2) Mexican Spanish includes words from the 60 Indigenous languages officially recognized by the Mexican government. The extent of the Indigenous influence is due to Mesoamerica (Central Mexico southward through Central America) being the center of the first most developed pre-Hispanic civilizations in the Americas.

3) Most Mexicans are proud of their Indigenous background and cultural make up. As a Mexican, I speak Mexican Spanish because that is my mother tongue; I use Spanglish with my Latino(a) friends in the U.S.

While we acculturate and adapt to the United States by keeping up with the challenge of “straddling two cultures” that is a common topic among Latina bloggers, let us not forget where we come from and the values we learned there such as respect for language differences and the nuances of language use. Let us “preserve our unique cultural identities” and “continue defining ourselves” without shoving others out of the way.

Welcome to the sequel or Chicano movement Part II, which is now more about integration than differentiation, and should be termed the “Latino Movement.” The term Latino was officially established in 1997 by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. It indicated that the terms Hispanic and Latino were to be used interchangeably beginning January 1, 2001.

Edited by Connie Cobb

Ethnifying Class Part III: A Socio-Cultural Perspective

By Mari D. González

How come Colombians and Iranians get upset when confused by Mexicans, at least the few I have come across. As a Mexican, I do not mind being identified as Colombian, Iranian, or any other ethnic group.

In general, people learn the “classifications of class” early in life as part of what becomes unconscious enculturative values. Most of us in the U.S., through enculturation -at home or school- or acculturation -dominant social values communicated by TV, school, or in the workplace, have learned the meaning of “ethnifying class,” or giving a particular nationality, color, or ethnicity a corresponding socioeconomic rank based on the dominant culture’s hierarchical perceptions.

Mexicans, aside from Canadians, are the only ones who cross just one border to get to the U.S. Thus, working-class families and farmers from Mexico can make it to the north less expensively than people from further south or further east.

Colombia and Iran mainly export citizens who are able to pay their way to the U.S. via “visas.” Most farmers and working-class people from those countries cannot afford to pay to cross many borders and they stay behind. In Mexico, however, the less financially-able are the ones who are more willing to risk everything “el todo por el todo” to go to the U.S.

In line with the dominant cultural stereotype, Mexicaness must equal lower class. Yet, when well-off Mexicans travel to the U.S. for business, shopping, or attending school as international students, their ethnicity is less of an issue.

Edited by Connie Cobb

Ethnifying Class Part II: A Personal Experience

By Mari D González

Last summer, I presented at the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) conference held at UC Berkeley and one of the participants asked me at the end, “How do you feel about presenting when most of your fellow Mexicans are labor workers?”

I wishfully thought he had come across post-colonial studies given that he was a university professor abroad. I had overheard him talking about teaching a graduate course in Thailand. My assumptions resulted from a positive stereotype that is just as insidious.

I did not care to answer his question because it was not one I would have ever asked myself. Instead, I wondered if he, in the effort of protecting his ego, avoided asking: “How do I feel by listening to a Mexican given the unquestioned perception I have chosen to hold about her?”

My “Mexicaness” experience has been shaped by a series of life events. I did not grow up in the U.S. and thus was devoid of its color-classification through enculturation. Growing up in Mexico, I mingled and felt equally comfortable with my well-off relatives from Mexico City as with my father’s students at his materially-poor-but-dignifying-rich rural school where I attended first and second grades before entering the only private school in my hometown. I certainly could not have any sympathy for this professor’s views or feelings.

Yet, through his inquiry, he had informed me of his narrow individually-held perception and how he declined to challenge it by diffusing it toward me. He refused to expand his stereotype when he had the opportunity to. Unfortunately, he chose to see the little and tiny side of the broader whole despite of his long-traveled and -lived life.

Ethnifying Class Part I: Classifying Obsession

By Mari D. González

Our Legacy from Colonialism

Because our most forceful legacy from colonialism —color obsession— is widely represented in media and pop culture and supported during children’s enculturative years, our tendencies are rather simplistic. We wish we could accurately match someone’s ethnicity and/or skin color with a socioeconomic class.

The effort to classify what a person looks like, her skin color, her ethnicity and culture, and/or her country of origin as her socioeconomic status leads more than often to wrong assumptions, sad stories, and violent acts.

When one’s nationality or looks mismatches what the perceiver expects in her character or behavior, a need for logical explanation never delays. The work of the “I” is to rely on our reasoning when our old-held perceptions are challenged. Yet, verbally expressed inaccurate and overstated generalizations are always obvious to the receiver but usually dismissed by the messenger.

“But, you don’t look Mexican

Phrases such as, “But, you don’t look Mexican” informs us where the speaker comes from —a solid and steadily held ignorance. That comfortable internal bubble gets burst as the messenger desires to be, but is not, asserted. His wish-it-was-iron-made fizz is held. He does not have to look inside to begin to accept that he does also carry that human-shared misery of pain.

Or, perhaps, he had wished that I wished to separate myself from my group of reference as much as he can comfortably separate himself from what he sees as “other.” And this other in his eyes is usually darker, indigenous-looking, lives on the other side of the tracks, has not appropriately learned the common fake politeness, was conditioned to obey, follows orders, rarely confronts authority, has less social status and in turn less political power.

According to those narrow “ethnicity-equals-class” standards, I must not, could not, and should not be Mexican. A fine gentleman, with the experience of being “of color,” told me once, “It is because according to them, you are too intelligent and good looking to be Mexican.”

I rather think that it is my lighter skin and middle-class demeanor what makes commentators like him feel unthreatened and almost sure that I want to climb their socially-imposed hierarchical ladder at the expense of my self-perceived identity and of the connection with the people I relate to culturally, historically, and ethnically.

Census 2010: A Historic Background South the Border

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.

The George Lopez Phenomenon

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.

Indegenous Population: Where Do They Fit?

By Mari D. González

It is becoming more and more common to encounter indigenous people from Latin America in the U.S. who speak their indigenous languages and do not speak Spanish, yet they are learning English. They are mostly young men from Southern Mexico or Central America.

Last month, I interpreted for two young men in their early twenties for a recorded statement related to a car accident. Both were from Guatemala. The youngest seemed very shy. Although he understood most of the questions I asked in Spanish, he needed further interpretation from his cousin who was fluent in Spanish and three other indigenous languages from Guatemala.

According to scholars (Elliot, Adams, & Sockalingam, 1999) indigenous people in the Americas should not be “counted” as Latinos. From their comprehensive study on cultural groups in the U.S. in the communications field, they conclude that,

Latino is used to refer to people with a lineage or cultural heritage related to Latin America, but should not be used to refer to the millions of Native Americans in the region. [Furthermore] members of indigenous groups in Mexico… object to being referred as ‘Mexicans’ (Multicultural Toolkit Summary, Hispanic American Communication Patterns,  3).

Latino or Hispanic

By Mari D. González

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.