Do you know how the terms Hispano and Latino came about? It was a cruel invention of the U.S. Census Bureau. It was an act of pigeonholing people in order to feed with new fuel the evil fires of discrimination. The Office of Management and Budget defines “Hispanic or Latino” as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” (emphasis mine.)
I belong to a generation when either term –Latino, Hispanic– was not current or in use. Hispanic, with the sense of Spanish-speaking person of Latin American descent, came into being c. 1972. Prior to that date Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. were simply called Spanish. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Cubans, and others, were referred to as Spanish. To clear up the possible confusion, when I had to refer to my background –having been born in Europe– I used the term Spaniard, which made things clear and justified my being blond with blue eyes, without any further explanation.
In Pittsburgh, Scranton, Lancaster and other towns in Pennsylvania where I lived, speakers of Spanish were few, if not wholly inexistent. Months would go by without hearing a word of Spanish.
I remember when President Johnson welcomed the birth of a baby that turned the population to 200 million. It seems like yesterday, and today that population has surged to 325 million, I believe; many of them, 50 million, no less, originated south of the Grand river, río Grande.
Also read: What being Hispanic or Latino means to me
Today people from diverse nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, even cultural mindsets, culinary tastes, have been grouped together under the tag –slur?– of Hispanic or Latino, thanks to the evil-doings of the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. They have only one thing in common: the Spanish language, with the many variations in accents, vocabulary and idioms inherent to language in general. Instead of mentioning Cubans, Chileans, Argentineans or Mexicans, they are all placed in the bag of Hispanos, which feeds discrimination.
I have little in common with Hispanics, except that we share the same language and the same literature. I empathize with them because I know that being born in the States, in any of the states, and being labeled Hispanic is a sure passport to a second-class citizenship with plenty of hurdles to overcome. And what truly beats me is why the so-called Hispanos have never fought against that demeaning label because accepting such a term means that the self-styled Anglos call the shots and are superior. Nobody is superior to me, or to anybody else. It all reminds me of the times when the Chinese were forced to wear queues or Jews a yellow Star of David outlined in black.
Sorry, I am not Hispanic in the U.S. Census sense. I am on a first-name basis with American culture, language, customs and I can well understand that the daughters of the American Revolution see all these alien speakers of Spanish as a threat; a threat to the “American way of life,” a threat to the English language, a threat to their comfortable life. It must be hard on their ego to read notices in a foreign language in public places, for example.
History marches on and there is little we can do to redirect that march. I may protest that I am not a Hispanic and that I do not identify myself with that label but probably the best I can do is to sneak around and pretend I speak no Spanish and try to pass for an average Joe and hope for the best, in order to avoid discrimination.
The day when, in the United States, people with last names like García, Sánchez, Chávez, or López say: “I am not Hispanic, I am an American of Mexican descent,” or “I am not Latino, I am an American of Cuban descent,” or even better: “I am an American. I am an American who speaks two languages” I will be able to rest in peace, RIP, and I will be proud. And those who proclaim their identity thus, will be free because they will not be labeled-shackled for discriminatory purposes. And E Pluribus Unum, will be a reality.
Read more posts by Delfín Carbonell.