Saturday, July 20, 2024

What Latino Community?

NewsTaco logoBy Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., Gozamos

The Atlantic slave trade stripped many black people of their heritage to the point where they refer to themselves nowadays with the simple label “African American.”

Latinos, on the other hand, know exactly where their ancestors came from, down to the city, neighborhood or even their family home. National flags, customs, traditions and histories are a source of immense pride. And because Latinos place so much pride in the patria of their ancestors, many Latinos rigidly insist that what makes a Mexican proud to be Mexican, for example, is somehow very different from what makes a Puerto Rican proud to be Puerto Rican.

That’s why, for all the recent talk of Latino political and spending power, Latinos hardly ever act as one people. There isn’t much solidarity within the Latino community (is it even a community?), and in fact, deep nationalism makes it difficult for Latinos to get along.

You see this played out in Chicago, where Humboldt Park and Logan Square on the Northwest Side are the so-called Puerto Rican neighborhoods, while Pilsen and Little Village on the Lower West Side are the Mexican ones. You see it in the way in which Mexicans and Central Americans seem suspicious of Puerto Ricans who show an interest in the immigration debate, claiming that Puerto Ricans aren’t real Latinos because they don’t have to deal with the immigration issue like the rest. Or how Puerto Ricans argue that non-Puerto Ricans (and Puerto Ricans living stateside) have no legitimate input on the status question.

If my discussion appears skewed toward Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and North American Latinos in general, it’s because the Latino community in the United States is norteamericano-centric to begin with, and because Mexicans and Puerto Ricans make up 72 percent of all Latinos living in the States. In all, around 87 percent of Latino Americans can trace their roots to somewhere in North America.

North American Latinos (CONCACAF Latinos, for you fútbol fans) don’t know much about South American Latinos (I don’t even know enough about South American Latinos to end this sentence with “and vice versa”). The average Latino American is as intrigued to meet a Bolivian or a Peruvian as much as the next person. Sure, norteamericanos know the basics: the name of the countries of South America and where they generally are on a map, the national dishes and music genres, the historical figures and other famous people. But North American Latinos probably know as much about South Americans as white Americans know about Europeans. It might as well be a whole other continent. Oh wait…

Still, even within the North American-dominated world of the U.S. Latino community, there are serious divisions. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are like Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets. North American Latinos may all be Veronesi, but for one reason or another, they simply don’t get along as well as they should.

One group always spreads a nasty rumor about the other. Ironically enough, what one group says about the other group tends to be the same thing the other group says about the first group. Mexicans commonly call Puerto Ricans lazy, which is exactly what Puerto Ricans call Mexicans. Puerto Rican mothers tell their daughters to steer clear of Mexican men, which is what Mexican mothers tell their own daughters. Mexicans think Puerto Rican Spanish is an abomination, and Puerto Ricans are hard-pressed to understand anything a Mexican says.

Mexican food is too saucy or spicy, and Puerto Rican food is too dry or sweet. Puerto Ricans all want to be jibaro, and Mexicans all want to be charros. The Puerto Rican flag is too unimaginative, while the Mexican flag shows an eagle standing on a catcus and eating a snake. There are a lot of short Mexicans, but there are a lot of black Puerto Ricans. Salsa is too rhythmic and banda is too… banda.

I’m sure there are plenty more, but I usually close my ears when I hear someone say something about people from another country. It’s usually based on stupid, ugly nationalism, rather than actual facts.

And these are only two countries within a much larger community of nations known belittlingly as “Latin America.” I know of a few similar rivalries on the map — Brazil and Argentina, Chile and Peru, Columbia and Venezuela, Honduras and Nicaragua, the D.R. and Haiti.

I guess the point of this piece is two-fold: first, to show non-Latinos how diverse the Latino community is, and second, to tell my fellow Latinos that we can no longer allow our diversity to divide us. Despite being from 19 far-flung nations, there are more similarities between Latin America and their descendants than there are differences. Mexico has more in common with Puerto Rico than it does with China, and Honduras has more in common with Uruguay than it does with Germany. Besides sharing an island, the Dominican Republic shares more in common with Haiti than it does with the United States.

Rather than let their pride in a flag lead to hatred of another flag, Latinos should wave the pan-Latino banner of a united yet diverse Latino American experience. As a second-generation Honduran-Puerto Rican, raised in a multinational family and having traveled to Latin America, it’s easier for me to shed my nationalistic pride in my catracho-ness or puertorriqueñidad and embrace my latinidad. I realize that, as a native Humboldt Parker, I have more in common with the Mexicans of La Villita than I do with the person going to work in Tegucigalpa or going to school in San Juan.

While Latinos should appreciate the differences between them, they should cling to their similarities. Because as Benjamin Franklin famously told his fellow Colonials, “We must all hang together, or…”

Well, you get the picture.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is a social critic for Gozamos and a native son of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. Since then he has contributed to various Chicago-area publications, most notably the RedEye, where he is an opinion columnist. He was formerly the associate editor at Being Latino and has maintained a personal blog since 2007, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to social issues and music.

This article can also be seen at NewsTaco.