The big question among American Hispanics these days is not which party they should vote for next year or which candidate to support in California next month but rather what they should call themselves—Hispanics or Latinos?
Last week the Washington Post devoted a long front page story to this burning issue, and the reasons why the latter term is starting to prevail among the country`s most rapidly growing ethnic minority group are of considerable interest. [Latinos or Hispanics? A Debate About Identity, By Darryl Fears Washington Post, August 25, 2003]
Being called a Hispanic, the somewhat formidably bicepped Miss Cisneros says, makes her skin crawl.
"Hispanic" she says "is like a slave name."
She`s not the only Hispanic (excuse me, Latino) to think so. The story insists that her feelings and preferences are "deepening a somewhat hidden but contentious debate over how the group should identify itself—as Hispanics or Latinos. The debate is increasingly popping up wherever Spanish speakers gather," but there`s something more here than just a name.
Miss Cisneros` self-description as a "pure" Latino suggests what that something is, and if you still don`t get it, the Post story itself finally telegraphs it:
"Although the terms Latino and Hispanic have been used interchangeably for decades, experts who have studied their meanings say the words trace the original bloodlines of Spanish speakers to different populations in opposite parts of the world.
"Hispanics derive from the mostly white Iberian peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal, while Latinos are descended from the brown indigenous Indians of the Americas south of the United States and in the Caribbean, conquered by Spain centuries ago."What the something is, quite simply, is race—which is what we`re talking about when we talk about "bloodlines," "descended from," "mostly white," and "brown."
The Post tries to evade this implication by regurgitating all the stuff about how "Latino-Hispanic" is really "an ethnic category in which people can be of any race," but there is no such term as "Latino-Hispanic" that anyone uses.
Miss Cisneros doesn`t say she`s Pure Latino-Hispanic, and neither does anyone else who insists on the Latino label. Virtually all the people interviewed distinguish the labels along what are essentially racial lines—Hispanic is cultural, mainly linguistic, and perhaps suggests actual descent from the natives of Spain; Latino is Latin American and mainly Indian—racial.
"I`ll tell you why I like the word Hispanic. If we use the word Latino, it excludes the Iberian peninsula and the Spaniards. The Iberian peninsula is where we came from. We all have that little thread that`s from Spain."Well, but the point is that not all "Hispanics" do.
A Mexican American writer, Luis Rodriguez, almost rejected a writing award from an organization with "Hispanic" in its title "because I`m not Hispanic," he told the Post. "Hispanic doesn`t work for me because it`s about people from Spain. I`m Mexican, and we were conquered by people from Spain, so it`s kind of an insult." The story also notes that "Mexican American activists in California and Puerto Rican activists in New York " prefer "a term that included the brown indigenous Indians who they believe are the source of their bloodline," which is to say, their race.
What`s significant about this is that even though only some 13 percent of—well—Hispanics say they prefer to be known as Latinos, the new term points toward an emerging racial—not simply, an ethnic, national, or cultural—identity.
This, you know, wasn`t supposed to happen.
In the wonderful world of the Open Borders Lobby and their close cousins, the promoters of a "color-blind society," race was supposed to disappear as the meaningless, false, obsolete and irrelevant "social construct" it`s supposed to be.
That`s still the pretense that`s mounted whenever anyone even sniffs the possibility of white racial identity.
But it`s not the reality, which is that for every racial and ethnic group other than white European-Americans, race is real and racial identity (not to mention racial solidarity) is OK—indeed, mandatory.
If Hispanics want to call themselves Latinos and think of themselves as a race, that`s fine with me.
I`m the last to say they shouldn`t.
But don`t tell me it`s OK for Latinos to be a race and identify with it but not OK for whites.
Race is as real—and important—for whites as it is for non-whites.
Denying that reality and its importance ought to make our skins—white as they are—crawl.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns,