Hispanic Heritage Month: Quienes somos?

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15-October 15. A month like this, which is meant to celebrate the Latino (Hispanic) community in the US, always sparks folks to write about who the Latino/Hispanic community in the US really is. From a demographic standpoint, we know a lot more about Hispanics in the US thanks to the recent census.

You can access a lot of the data about how the Hispanic population has changed over the last three decades here. The short version is that there are a lot of us, and that by 2050 it’s predicted that everyone one in four people in the US will be Latino. Maybe that explains the upswing in nativist anti-immigrant sentiments? White folks are losing their majority and there isn’t much that can be done about it.

Not only are we a growing community, we’re also an extremely diverse one. We’re also a community that folks can’t come to consensus on how to categorize. As it stands, Hispanic is more a categorization based on language than anything else–of the almost 30 countries of origin that are lumped under this title, this seems to be the only commonality. Spanish is, of course, a result of Spanish colonization. But even language-wise we’re much more diverse than that–there are many many indigenous languages still spoken by folks across Latin America. And then there are the children of immigrants who may not speak a word of Spanish.

Racially, we’re extremely diverse. Folks have trouble categorizing us that way as well–you may have noticed the questions in the census. Class, education, immigration status, religion, you name it and we’ve got a huge range of people within the category Latino.

I’m Cuban-American, as I’ve mentioned before. My parents both emigrated from Cuba in the 1960s, along with thousands others who fled Fidel Castro’s government. I’ve never been to Cuba (and my parents have not returned) but I feel very Cuban in many ways. Spanish was my first language (my mom left the preschool teacher in North Carolina a Spanish-English dictionary on my first day so she could communicate with me), I spent most summers in Miami, I city that feels more like Latin America that the US at times. I’ve been influenced by my Cubanness in all sorts of ways, some I can’t even tell are about that.

While I fully embrace the label of Latino/Hispanic, I also recognize the myriad of ways that I am different from so many others in that group. First of all, no one in my family ever had to deal with being undocumented or had trouble finding a path to citizenship. This is because since the Castro government took over, the US has allowed any Cubans who make it to the shores of the US to immediately begin the path to citizenship. My family, while they left everything they owned in Cuba, were able to work and live here immediately upon arrival. That’s a huge privilege that no other immigrant group has been afforded.

I’m also read as white almost all of the time here. My light skin and light eyes mean that most don’t know (or are shocked to find out) that I’m Latina. I almost always get the question: “Both of your parents are Cuban??” when someone learns of my background. It’s a privilege in a racist society to be read as white, but is also a source of frustration and invisibility for me, since I feel like I’m rarely seen by others. My name is a different story, and I know that when people see my full name before they see me (Miriam Zoila Perez) they assume I’m Latina–and probably assume I will look very different than I do. But I’m not the only light-skinned Latin@ in this country, and the reality is we come in all shapes, sizes and skin colors.

Despite all of our differences, I still think there is power in the collective, in working together as a community, in recognizing our commonalities as well. And I for one am psyched to see the day when so many folks in the US are Latino. Hell yeah 2050!

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/kenia/ Kenia Perez

    Oye chica! I’m in the same boat as you, Miriam! My parents also came over from Cuba in the 60’s, have never returned, and I’ve never been. I’m so Americanized and light skinned, I also get the “BOTH of your parents are Cuban??” response. The other reponse that frustrates me from people: “You’re Latina! Of COURSE you can handle spicy food!” (Do you get that one too?) I can barely handle medium, and I get crap for it – people think that Cuban culture is just like Mexican culture, when you and I both know there are no spicy dishes in Cuba!
    I have recognized, as you said, that it IS a privilege to be read as white. I can’t wait until the day that that is no longer a privilege, and people in this country recognize that the populations of 30 or so Hispanic countries are full of various colors, shapes, cultures, and languages.

    • http://feministing.com/members/miriam/ Miriam

      Yes Kenia! That spicy food comment gets me as well. People like to lump all Latinos together–I’m glad you understand where I’m coming from.

  • gothicguera

    Mexican-American here and it pisses me off when people say ALL Latino cultures are the same. People are surprised to learn I know spainsh considering I have an anglo surname. I know several Latinos who have English surnames. I know several Latinos that are mostly African descent . There are several a Latinos that are Jewish and Muslim. I meet people with Peruvian citizenship and their parent are from China but the consider themselves Peruvian. yeah, we are not all the same.