Why do Latinos/Hispanics spend so much time on their identity?

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Last week, the PEW Hispanic Center released a report entitled, “Hispanics and Their Views of Identity.”

The report essentially revealed that of those Hispanic adults surveyed, the majority don’t see themselves sharing a common culture but rather see themselves as having many cultures. Nor do the majority embrace the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” mandated by the federal government for its collection data purposes.

Of all the ethnic groups in America, Hispanics/Latinos are seemingly raising questions why the terms Hispanic and Latino were chosen by the feds to identify them.

As a member of a federal task force in the early 1970s that coined the term “Hispanic” for the federal government, I have found that there are those that like Hispanic, others who prefer Latino, and still others prefer being called American period.

When I was growing up in south Texas during the 1960s, my driver’s license had LA in the racial category, which prompted someone to ask if I was from Los Angeles. LA was an abbreviation for Latin American.

We of Spanish origin have come a long way from being called dirty meskin, wetback, spic, etc. As a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Racial and Ethnic Definitions released in April 1975, I was an active voice in choosing the word “Hispanic” because we needed data collected as accurately as possible to identify those persons served or under served by the federal government.

After having been called every ethnic slur invented by bigots, the word Hispanic was not only the most dignified word I could think of but also one that would allow us to best describe the groups to which it was intended to apply.

But the question continues to linger, why do we Hispanics spend so much time figuring what to call ourselves? I recently visited a predominantly Hispanic enrolled university in south Texas and the question of identity took over the conversation.

One particular student mentioned that perhaps our identity question has to do with our lack of appreciation for our history.

He continued to say that this nation hasn’t necessarily taken steps to educate its students about the rich history and contributions of Hispanic Americans, thus the necessity for Mexican American studies or Latin American studies.

Interestingly, another student was adamant that persons of Spanish origin shouldn’t be lumped under one category whether it’s Hispanic or Latino because we are of different cultures. Indeed persons of Spanish origin are the only ethnic group in the world whose blood lines claim Asian, Native people of the Americas, Jewish, Arabic, Black and White European.

Certainly we should be proud of our particular ethnicity, whether it’s Bolivian, Mexican, Puerto Rican or Honduran. What we fail to mention is that what bonds us is that we are the ancestors of the Native people that owned the western hemisphere until the Spanish conquered their culture, and took their lands.

We are basically the children of those conquering Spanish and the Native people of the Americas and because of that we have a common bond, not only the language of Spanish but also blood lines.

In this country, it’s all about numbers. That’s what influences the policy makers. The more of us coming together and pressing for demands that affect our communities the more power and influence we will have.

Pride is great but it won’t, in the end, put food on our table, a car in a garage or provide a home we want to own. Even today the question is, are our chances for individual success better as individuals or as a part of a greater entity?

In the end, we must come together, even if it’s kicking and screaming.

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