I cringe every time I hear the term “Hispanic” when September rolls around. I used this term sporadically as a youth when referring to people of “Spanish-speaking” background and slowly phased it out in favor of the term “Latino” and, as of late, its more recent variant, “Latinx.” Even still, there is reluctance on my part to self-identify with either, as I prefer the more regional-specific labels “Mexican,” “Mesoamerican,” “Chicano” and “Xicano.”
I understand the need for having a shared identity in North America. Yet I still feel that defining people with Eurocentric monikers is very limiting and ignores our full complexity as people with deep roots on this continent. There are a few points to be made about these identifiers and celebrations that are tethered to them.
First, conflating linguistics with cultural signifiers is as clunky as having someone of Irish American or German American ancestry listed in government forms as “English” or “Anglo.” Command of language on its own is not enough to categorize someone. Language acquisition is often a necessary element of survival.
Second, many of us have blended backgrounds. I have some distant Spanish ancestry (as well as French). Genetics aside, I do not feel a social or spiritual connection to Spain (or France, for that matter) as my lived experience is more closely embedded with those of my Indigenous ancestors in the Americas. I have no material connection to Europe. Connection to geographic place and culture is often necessary to feel like a genuine member of a given community.
Third, and perhaps the most important point, is that independence festivities like Spanish Heritage Month recognize decolonization and the active refusal to maintain colonial dependence to Spain. This, I believe, is a little more interwoven with my second point. Cultural connection is critical in forming who we are. I argue that our reality is a reflection of our own struggle for dignity on this continent as people of Indigenous American and African backgrounds.
As we actively decolonize our own identities, we also grapple with the inherent tension of categorization for the purpose of disseminating resources. The U.S. Census count every 10 years really brings this conversation to the fore. We must examine intention and whether use of labels is an act of self-designation or an act meant to group together people of similar socio-cultural backgrounds.
This is what is really at the center of collective identity within the United States and is often what we must weigh. In moving forth, we must explore the complexity of this question and look at who is centered and who is marginalized. We do not have the luxury within our communities of perpetuating the systemic erasure of our Indigenous and African roots. Que viva la independencia!
Read more in the Sept. 23-29, 2020 issue.