This is an open letter to a community I was born into and raised. I come from a family of 10 children 5 boys 5 girls and our parents are still around to enjoy their grandchildren.
I was born in New York City but raised in Los Angeles and Orange county California.
I left the US in 1988 because although I was educated there it never felt home. And the message I understood at the time was that the only way to win was to play the white people’s game. I remember being embarrassed when our mother dropped me and my brother off at school and yelled “Que Dios les bendiga y que la virgen les acompañe”(1). My brother and I just wanted that language to disappear because it was the biggest reason we stood out from the other children. I come back to visit my family and friends regularly.
Now in 2018 from what I see it’s “cool” to be latino, maybe it’s because the majority culture has accepted that they would die without our cooking. Or because we represent a significant part of the consumer economy. What would America be without consumers?
When I left southern California in the late 80’s the Asian communities were growing not only in size but also political clout. I thought that would be the normal development for all immigrants. Not so. There seem to be two groups excluded from the “American dream” Blacks and Latinos. Why?
I am not Black so do not feel legitimate in speaking about their empowerment in the first person, but I am a full blooded US born and raised latino and am concerned at the disparity between the amount of blood sweat and tears we give to the US and what we have to show for it in terms of official recognition among the the majority culture. According to Brown-Gort, “St. Augustine, Fla., was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer and admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Spaniards held the first Thanksgiving celebration in the U.S. in 1597, and in 1723, the first Catholic Bishop in the U.S. came from Cuba.” (2)
So if we look at our situation in terms of history, we are even more legitimate than the other “minorities” with the exception of the native Americans. However, In the grand narrative, Latinos are still the “them” unless we shed our cultural heritage and become “gringo” or “white”. I have yet to find a metaphor such as the “Oreo” for the blacks who although they are dark skinned on the inside they think and act “white”. Another image is the “Banana” for the Asians. But what are we supposed to exchange it for? What constitutes the ethnic DNA of the American identity? Is it just White, Christian, European?
As Ralph Ellison has said “Americanness is a hybrid”. Why is it that European cultures have been integrated into the History as part of what “makes us great” but the latino culture is still an outsider? For a good part of the 20th century many other European ethnic groups were also treated as “them”-Italians, Jews,Irish, Germans. Today they all form part of American history built upon the talent and toil of so many immigrants. But we latinos we’re actually here before all the other Christian Europeans, even the British. If it is linked to Spanish heritage then we arrived almost a century before the Mayflower. Again that depends on what your definition of Latino is: Is it just someone who has Spanish heritage or is it “el mestizo” person of mixed race. Maybe this perception of mixed race can be explored further.
If we compare the latino to other immigrants in the US context, there is a clear distinction between their lives before arriving in the US and after. They came from over the ocean where life was not up to their expectations to start a new one here. The great majority left the “homeland” never to return. Also the homeland was clearly delineated, with a language, religion, and culture of their own. There was an obvious break with the past. Is this the case with the latino?