Friday, August 07, 2009

A Primer on "Hispanic"

Last year I began doing research for the local Hispanic newspaper that's been around for 15 years and growing. One question that sometimes comes up due to ignorance, prejudice or the media is not even asked.

The question is: who are/what is Hispanic? Here's an answer from Mediapost:

What Race Are Hispanics?
"What race are Hispanics?" This, along with "Mexican stereotypes" is one of the phrases that generate a more-than-decent amount of traffic to my blog. Looking at it from the inside out, it is a somewhat nonsensical question, but if I put myself in the shoes of the average non-Hispanic American, I can somewhat understand where they are coming from. It is a somewhat intricate, not a black or white (pun intended) matter.

So what race are Hispanics? They can be Asian, Black, Pacific Islander, White, Native American, or any combination of two or more of these. The Latino community is nothing short of a genetic kaleidoscope. The answer to the question is, "Any of the above." Even the Census Bureau has stated that "Hispanics can be of any race, any ancestry, any country of origin."

Each one of the racial categories mentioned above "shares certain distinctive physical traits." When you begin to look closely at the Latino community as a whole, you begin to notice that you simply can't organize it by race; there's just too many of us who don't fit the finite number of races. Most of us fit in the last category, "a combination of two or more races." Yes, many of us are "mestizos" or of mixed racial ancestry. Still, there are some pure bred White, Black or Asian individuals who identify themselves as Latinos.

So the question now is, what are Hispanics? The best way to categorize them is as an ethnic group. An ethnic group is defined as "a group of those who hold in common a set of traditions that distinguish them from others ... such as a sense of historical continuity, a common ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs and practices, and language." Please note that when defining an ethnic group, it is done not by a rigidly defined set of characteristics that you can't move away from, but as a combination of several traditions, which at the end of the day define a particular outlook in life, a state of mind, a way to interpret and respond to outside situations and stimuli.

Let's see how some of the characteristics of the Latino ethnicity intertwine.

  • Most Latinos can trace back in time an ancestor who came from México, Central or South America (I always include Brazil here), or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean; in many cases they came from there themselves.
  • Some who perfectly fit within the "Hispanic ethnicity," genealogically descend from Spain or Portugal as well. It all goes back to the conquering and colonization of the New World by the Spanish and Portuguese empires. They settled in America (yes, North America as well), bringing their culture, customs, religion, language, etc., and through cultural and racial cross-pollinating, started a brand new ethnicity and a distinct culture.
  • People from elsewhere migrated -- by free will or not -- to Latin America from all corners of the world as well; we can clearly identify people with Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and German heritage, as well as those from different parts of Africa, just to name a few. Through time, all the latter, although some still maintain most of their genealogical traits, have assimilated/acculturated into their host nations.
  • Individuals from Latin America who migrate to the United States have a shared connection to the history of their country of heritage, which in turn has many similarities with the history of the other Latin American countries. Then they share all these with their American-born offspring.
  • Without going into a religious debate, and looking only at the customs as well as the interpretation of outside stimuli, we can observe that Latin Americans through centuries of Spaniard/Portuguese colonization have a well-ingrained Catholic outlook, independently of the faith they profess.

With all this in mind, I'm sure you are now asking, "Who is Hispanic?" A recent Pew Hispanic Center report that emerged around the commotion about whether or not Sonia Sotomayor was the nation's first Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court put it quite clearly: "You are if you say so."

Through my years living in the U.S. I've met and befriended many persons who neither physically or through heritage fit the "Latino stereotype," yet their state of mind, their outlook in life is much more Hispanic than that others I've met who "genetically" look Latino. The former, to me, are Hispanics.

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