1) https://static1.squarespace.com/static/550a1c94e4b… (Just summarize chapter 2 of borderlines (pg 15-23))
2) The Politics of Labeling: Latinola Cultural Identities of Self and Others (I couldn’t find the pdf version so i pasted the article it here)
“I am what I am.” Thus begins “Ending Poem,” by Aurora Levins-Morales and Rosario Morales (1986: 212-213), a mother-and-daughter statement that reaffirms the existence of the self and is almost a challenge to those who question the existence in the United States of a Latina identity and culture. It supports the critique by Eliana Ortega and Nancy Saporta-Sternbach (1989: 3) of the claim that minority literatures express a search for identity rather than a “paradigm of self-affirmation in the Latina writer, a self-perception and self-definition.” Certainly the Morales’ “Ending Poem” would support Ortega and Saporta-Sternbach’s (1989:3) view that among U.S. Latina writers, the issue is more a question of searching for “the expression or articulation of that identity, but not for . . . identity itself.” Throughout the poem, mother and daughter alternate in their affirmation of their respective identities and use historical, geographical, ancestral, culinary, and other cultural aspects to characterize their (Latina) selves.
Still, reading the Moraleses’ poem, one is struck by the ways in which both self (I am what I am) and other (I am not what I am not) are fundamental to the construction of the identities of these individual Latinas- and, one might say, to the ethos of the (Latino) group:
I am not African.
Africa waters the roots of my tree, but I cannot return.
I am not Taina.
I am a late leaf of that ancient tree
and my roots reach into the soil of two Americas. Taino is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European, though I have dreamt of those cities.
Europe lives in me but I have no home there.*
*”Ending Poem,” in Getting Home Alive by Aurora Levins-Morales and Rosario Morales,
Characterizationsof the self necessarilyevoke those of the other, and there are many “others” to be portrayed, recreated, and redefined in the process of constructing and affirming the Latina self. As Ortega and Saporta-Sternbach have argued (1989: 14), “In constructing herself as a subject, a Latina must dismantle the representation of stereotypes of her self, constructed, framed, and projected by the dominant ideology.” The need to dismantle stereotypes is well known and can be traced to the dichotomizing of self and other apparent, for example, in the essentializing practices of classical anthropol- ogy. Recent critiques of traditional anthropology suggest that the study of the other has been as much about the affirmation of the anthropologist’s self as abouttheconstructionofthenative’sotherness.’ Ifthisistrue,thenonemight ask, how are the dichotomies of self versus other problematized when dealing with bicultural or multicultural peoples? Is not the affirmation of the self, and the examination of stereotypes of it, also the affirmation of the internalized (stereotyped) others within it (Lorde, 1990; Fanon, 1967; Anzaldiia, 1990)?3
One could argue, for example, that these various “others” are also (al- though certainly not only) aspects of the ethos of the Latino/a4 ethnic group. Let me enumerate some of them: (1) There is the Latino as gendered other, (2) there is the Latino self as a Hispanic other, (3) then there is the notion of Latino as a class-specific other. (4) There is the Latino self as a racial other-whether that racial other is called Mestizola, the nonwhite, the white-Hispanic, the person of color, la raza, etc. (5) There is the Latino self as an American other- and, within that otherness, one must distinguish whether one is referring to the self as U.S. citizen or as a member of the population of the Americas as a whole. (6) There is the Latino self as a Latin American national other: the Puerto Rican self, the Mexican self, the Chicanola, Colombian, Peruvian, Dominican, etc5The question is how, if at all, is this internalized identity-tension between self and other(s) articulated and dealt with by those who identify themselves or are designated as Latinos in the United States? Are they indeed affirming the self, even as they redefine the other@)?And if so, how?
These questions are important if we are to better understand the notion of Latinos as constituting a “social movement” (Flores and Yudice, 1990). Given the varying meanings in daily life in U.S. society of ethnicIracia1 identities-whether self-defined or imposed-there is a need to further explore the construction of Latino identity and “ethnic consciousness” both within and beyond the context of the “situational ethnicity” that Ftlix Padilla (1985) has described in his important study on “Latinismo” among Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans in Chi~agoI.n~deed, the fact that with the gradual dissemination of the term Hispanic since the 1970s a significant number of second- and later-generationLatinos have grown up identified and self-identifying as Latinos or Hispanics raises the question whether Latinismo can be viewed, in certain regions around the country, solely as a “situational” identity, particularly in urban areas like New York City.’ Pre- liminary observations among second and later generations of Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Central and South Americans raised in the United States appear to suggest that for some, Latinismo is not only or necessarily “situational.” Latino-Americans are growing up in the border- lands of at least two cultures and are affected by and aware of the discrimi- nation and prejudice against them as Latinos. It is therefore not surprising that some might want to take the term farther by constructing their identities as a group in this country.’ The result seems to be the creation of new Latino histories and traditions that may in effect be eroding these later generations’ consciousness of the historical discrimination against Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans since 1848 and 1898, respectively, and of the differences in modes of incorporation into the U.S. economy between these groups and the Latin American and Caribbean immigrants arriving in the past two decades.
I will therefore focus on some of the internalized others within and against which the Latinola self is asserted in the United States to suggest (1) that class and race background and values shape the meaning and social value individuals attribute to the terms they adopt to define both self and other and (2) that, at least in the present conjuncture, both self and other are fundamen- tal to the formation of the ethos of the Latinola ethnic group in the United States. I will explore the selflother dichotomy through an analysis of inter- views with middle- and working-class Latinos currently living and working in New York City.
THE GENDERED OTHER
Gender ideologies throughout the world have traditionally privileged men with better employment possibilities (Leacock and Safa, 1986). Latin Amer- ican societies have been no exception to this rule. Indeed, in spite of the economic realities on the continent, Latin American societies continue to hold that a respectable woman’s place is in the home (Brown, 1975; Rubbo,
1975).1°Discussing women and work in the United States, Rubin (1976: 171) has pointed out that “historically, it has been a source of status in working- class communities for a woman to be able to say ‘I don’t have to work.’ “
This observation is applicable to Latin America, although status consid- erations there are not limited to working-class communities. As one male informant whose social status was middle-class in his home country explained:
I had to work for so many people in the family that it got very difficult for me because in Colombia, the wife doesn’t work. When one reaches a certain position, the wife becomes the gracious hostess. She’s the one who takes care of the children, she’s the person who collaborates, but she doesn’t really produce any money through work.. .the social side has to be kept up. There are those who say, “How can so-and-so’s wife go to work! It’s impossible!” (Francisco, Colombia).
While immigration had directly affected men’s perceptions of women’s traditional roles, it was the women I interviewed who provided the best interpretations of the types of cultural adjustments men have to make when women enter the work force here in the United States: “It’s harder for men because they have to forget their machismo and depend on themselves here” (Soledad, Colombia). The women reported that many men begin to help with the household chores, which may lead some to feel that their masculinity and pride is undermined in the immigration process- a finding confirmed in Pessar’s (1987) study of Dominican households in the United States. Both the men and the women I interviewed agreed that men had better job opportunities here in the United States, but only the women expressed negative feelings about men’s working lives: “He’s got to pay the rent, the big bills. They have to have two jobs here. It’s easier to buy a house there than it is here. Come to think of it, he hasn’t gone up in life as I have”
Coming from a male-privileged employment context, the women incorporate these changes into their own sense of self, challenging the stereotyped gendered other within. As a result of immigration, a woman’s sense of self begins to shift back and forth between her previous “othered” socialization and values and the “new self’ constructed in a daily life of active participation in the work force, which often (as noted by Pessar and Grasmuck, 1991) results in her becoming the primary or at least an equal contributing member of her household.
Comparing their juggling of work and household chores here and in their own countries, some women explained why life for them was easier here: “It’s better because you don’t have to wash all day long, and you can get clothes that don’t have to be ironed. You can study. Back home, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do here” (Milagros, Peru). This woman added that the ability to pay some of the bills gave her a new sense of freedom and of self. It also made her feel that she had bettered herself. But for some of the women life here raised other issues: “It’s not better here, because here mothers have to leave their children with someone outside of their circle of family and friends to go to work” (Maria, Dominican Republic). The need to rely on people other than family and friends is a forced departure from the traditional cultural patterns of the Latin American extended family. Dealing with this break- and with the struggle not only for daily survival but also to recognize oneself and adapt to changes in gender roles, values, and expectations – is at the heart of both immigrant men’s and women’s lives in the United States.
Still, people with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean in this country are not seen merely as men and women struggling with the changes in their gender values brought on by immigration. Rather, regardless of the way or time of their arrival in U.S. society, they are identified as Hispanic men and women, and this identity interacts with their experiences here in the United States and hence also challenges their already shifting sense of self.
THE HISPANIC OTHER
Over the past two decades, the term Hispanic has come into general use in the United States to refer to all people in this country whose ancestry is predominantly from one or more Spanish-speaking countries. The term therefore assigns people of a variety of national backgrounds to a single “ethnic” category. It encompasses great racial and class diversity, obscures gender differences, and even includes people whose primary language is not Spanish (Flores, 1985; Hayes-Bautista and Chapa, 1987; GimCnez, 1989). The Hispanic othered-self is, through its implicit homogenization, a denial of the diversity of national, linguistic, social, historical, cultural, gendered, racial, political, and religious experiences of at least 2.5 million people. Despite this, the term Hispanic is increasingly used, as Trevifio (1987) notes, by Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike to establish the idea of a homogeneous Hispanic ethnic group.
Not surprisingly, the term has caused much confusion among government agencies, scholars, the media, and the public at large. It directly affects both policy decisions and the individual selves of many immigrants, residents, and citizens with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean. In failing to do justice to the variety of backgrounds and conditions of the individuals to whom it has been applied, the term Hispanic can have the effect of denying their sense of self. This became clear in my interviews with Latinos as they sought to define themselves in relation to the Hispanic other attributed to them. Informants rejected the term Hispanic as a self-identifier, but this rejection took many forms and was particularly differentiated in terms of social class.
THE CLASS-SPECIFIC OTHER
One of the revealing points that emerged again and again in the interviews was the extent to which people’s sense of self contrasted, sometimes dramat- ically, with the connotations they attributed to the label Hispanic. While many informants had been forced by immigration to reexamine their gender roles and values, they did so through the prism of the values shaped in their own countries. And, although all of the informants were working in the garment industry in New York City and so had what are here considered traditional working-class occupations, not all of them had had working-class occupa- tions or status in their own countries. Social class values were clearly a determinant of both their sense of self and the ways in which they positioned themselves in a society that applied to them a label with negative connotations.
People with a middle-class background immediately pointed out that the term was derogatory, but they recognized that, derogatory or not, that is what they were called. One informant, for example, explained the term this way: “They invented the word Hispanic to discriminate against us. We are at the bottom of the pile here” (Francisco, Colombia). Another middle-class person said, “I’m Colombian, but in the census I wrote Hispanic. That’s what they call us here.”
In contrast, working-class informants appeared reluctant to call them- selves Hispanic or even to discuss the term in relation to themselves. They clearly saw it as identifying a group of people with negative attributes, and they implied that these people had absolutely nothing to do with them. Not surprisingly, many informants simply distanced themselves from the term and asserted their sense of self in terms of their continental and national origins: “It’s wrong to call us Hispanic, because that word applies to the Spaniards. We’re not Spaniards. We’re from Latin America” (Alicia, Colom- bia). Others explicitly recognized the existence of the Hispanic as other by expressing deep disapproval of those they identified as Hispanics in this society. Thus, one person began by denying any knowledge of the meaning of the term and ended up by specifying its negative connotations. In her interpretation, Hispanic was a term that “they” (i.e., mainstream U.S. society) used as a synonym far “pigs,” people who were “dirty,” had “bad habits,” lacked morals, and were “noisy.” She concluded, “So because of those two or three families, they call us all Hispanics” (Rosa, El Salvador).
Hence this informant expressed her fear of being labeled Hispanic and openly distanced herself from the term. That is very different from the middle-class perception that “Hispanics are at the bottom of the pile here.”
This suggests that while middle-class informants may recognize themselves as Hispanic and simultaneously distance themselves from the label by sociological interpretation, working-class people interpret the implications of the label for their sense of self in strictly personal terms.”
THE RACIAL OTHER
One key aspect of the effects of the imposition of a homogenizing label that classifies people with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean in ethnic terms is the ways in which the informants adopted U.S. racialtethnic classi- fications to articulate their sense of self. Again, the informants’ responses corresponded to the values stemming from their social class positions in their own countries, including not only class-based values but also the culturally specific racial prejudices that accompanied them in Latin America. Thus, for example, when asked to comment on whether his life had changed in the United States, one worker who had middle-class status in his native country first established his class background, pointing out that there was consider- able social distance between him and the other Latin Americans with whom he worked in the factory:
They [i.e., “Americans”] exploit us with very low salaries, and they delude us into thinking that life is owning a car. Here it’s common for people to have a car- you can get one dirt-cheap; there’s no status in it. You see, having an acceptable car, a good house does bring you status in any South American country. They delude people who could never have had a car in their own country. But the comforts of a good kitchen, of being able to wash your plates, of having a dishwasher, a refrigerator, a good sound system, a television – none of that is really life. There is no pride in acquiring any of it for anyone who comes here with an education (Francisco, Colombia).
This informant proceeded to speak of the shift in his social status using the U.S. racialtethnic hierarchy:
The fact is that they’ve got us [Latin Americans] poorer here. …The problem is that we Latin Americans are considered the lowest race here. We are only here to work at the bottom. Because there’s a bad policy here in the U.S. There are around 32 or 33 million of us, and yet we are considered a minority. The percentage of Greeks, Germans, Poles, is very low, yet they have special privileges that we don’t have.
In comparing his position and aspirations with those of the Latin American working-class immigrants with whom he worked and not with those of other middle-class immigrants like himself, the informant was adopting the U.S. ethnictracial system of classification. On the one hand, he was distancing himself from the other workers as a middle-class person “with an education.”
On the other hand, as a middle-class person himself, he was claiming the same rights accorded to what he perceived as the white middle class (“Greeks, Germans, Poles”) and, in the process, excluding African-Americans and other minorities from the “special privileges” accorded to the (white) middle class. Moreover, his discourse seems to suggest a desire for incorporation into U.S. society – an incorporation that he defined in terms of access to the rights and privileges of the (white) middle class.
While the middle-class informants tended to measure themselves in terms of social status-comparing themselves to people whom they considered their equals in this country -working-class people seemed to assess them- selves in material terms, that is, by comparing what they had achieved here with what they had had back home: “I’m much better off here than there. After paying all the bills, it’s almost the same here [as in the Dominican Republic], but you are more comfortable here.”
Still, like the middle-class informants, these working-class people also knew that they were identified as Hispanic and were aware of the prejudice against them. Not surprisingly,their sense of self as members of U.S. society was shaped by their awareness of the barriers to their incorporatiotl;which dictated the ways they positioned their selves in the United States:
I would like my children to go into the U.S. army. You know why? Because what I’ve achieved here l’vegotten thanks in part to this country. I did it with my efforts, but they gave me the opportunity to come, to survive. So to show my gratitude I would like that. …The problem is that in the army, or in the navy, Hispanics are always given the worst jobs. If my daughter is educated and qualified, why should the Americans give her the worst positions just because she’s Hispanic? (Maria, Dominican Republic).
In this statement, Maria expresses not only her ability to integrate into U.S. society, but also the limits to her doing so, as defined by the label Hispanic and its connotations. Although she recognizes that her daughter is qualified, she fears the latter will never be considered to be American because she will always be treated as a Hispanic.
THE AMERICAN OTHER
Although second- and later-generation Latin Americans may never be considered “American,” it is important to keep in mind that the identity of Latin America as a unified continent has itself long been debated and is yet to be fully forged (Oddone, 1987; Giordano and Torres, 1986). Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that the notion of exploring the existence of an identity shared by Latin American people (and the meaning of that identity) was new to some informants, regardless of their time of arrival in the United States.
I went to the factory the very next day after our last conversation and asked my colleagues at work what they understood by Hispanic. I asked an Ecuador- ian, a Dominican, and a Puerto Rican. They all gave the same answer. They said it was because we all speak Spanish. …They didn’t seem to care what the Americans call us. But I think it’s interesting. I think we should know why they call us Hispanic. So I began to think about it (Rosa, El Salvador).
Asked whether she thought of herself as Hispanic, Rosa answered:
No, I don’t. I’m Central American. Because you know there’s the North Americans and the Central Americans and the South Americans. We’re all Ame,icans, right? But then we have to differentiate ourselves. Some are in the North, some in the Center, and others in the South, right? So when someone asks me what I am, I say, “I’m Salvadoran. I’m Central American from El Salvador,” and that’s it. A Colombian can say “I’m South American, from Colombia.”
As did most informants, Rosa defined herself in terms of her nationality. Her reluctance to use the term Hispanic was at least partly due to her negative perception of the term. At the same time, contextualizing her national identity in terms of the continent’s geography, narrowing the latter down to particular nationalities, was an approach echoed by most other informants as they sought to assert their identities in the U.S. context.
THE LATIN AMERICAN NATIONAL OTHER
For most informants, the Hispanic was in many ways the external other. At the same time, through its negation, the label Hispanic became the basis on which the self was being constructed. Thus, several informants rejected the application of Hispanic to themselves and others from the Latin American and Caribbean region: “I will call myself by my nationality, no matter where I live” (Irene, Ecuador); “We should be called South Americans, or Central Americans. It depends on where you’re from” (Julibn, Peru). Indeed, for many of the informants, the root of the problem with the term Hispanic was the discrimination attached to the grouping of all Spanish-speaking people
and their awareness that labels such as this one efface what are for them obviousnational,ethnic,andsocialdistinctions.” Thus,forexample,forthe most part, the informants perceived the erasure of their national differences as being caused by the ignorance of non-Hispanic Americans about Latin America and the Caribbean: “Neither Americans or Europeans know much about geography. In this respect they arevery ignorant. That’s why they group us all together. They don’t know the difference, because they don’t know their geography” (Soledad, Colombia). The extent to which the informants resented what they perceived as Americans’ lack of knowledge about their
culture can be seen in the relationship they established between the ways they defined their identity in the U.S. context and their attempts to be specific about the continent’s geography:
We are all of us Americans (Julihn, Peru).
I never call people from this country “Americans.”I use that word for everyone from Alaska to Patagonia. In my city -I can only speak of my city, because, you know, each one has its own customs- we call them yanquis or gringos, but not Americans.
I only know one America. Its geographical position may be North America, Central America, or South America. But we’re all American. Colombia isn’t located in Europe, it isn’t located in Asia, and it isn’t in Africa, either. So if they take the name of the entire continent for their country, what is left for ours? What is the name of the continent that Colombia is on? (Alicia, Colombia).
Comments such as this point to the tension that has historically existed between the populations of the Latin American and Caribbean nations, on the one hand, and the United States on the other. For some informants, the tension is overtly political: “I’m American only by accident, because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. I don’t think that’s by choice, because they’ve got American bases there” (Juan, New York-born Puerto Rican). Asked about his American citizenship and passport, Juan continued to deny that he was American, explaining, “I’m Americanized, but I’m not American” – by which he means “I believe like they say, work hard, you get ahead, you get whatever you want, you get your house, your cars, your mortgages.” Thus he refuses the identity of American, recognizing that it has been imposed in much the same way as the identity of Hispanic: “From whites you came up with the word Hispanic. …Puerto Ricans never call each other Hispanic.” Not surprisingly, then, Juan defied his identity in (Puerto Rican) national rather than ethnic (Hispanic or Latino) terms: “First
I’d say I’m Puerto Rican. I would consider myself that because that’s what I was taught to believe in. …you know, to be proud of your nationality. You’re proud of what you are and what the people in your country fought for.”
For the most part, among the non-Puerto Rican informants, the tension between the “two Americas” is further manifested in the need to recognize the boundaries of the identity of the other-whether that other be a Latin American national or a U.S. citizen-in the process of shaping one’s own identity in the U.S. context: “I once had a discussion with a Puerto Rican who said to me, ‘I’m American,’ and I answered, ‘I’m as American as you are, because there is only one America’ ” (Maria, Dominican Republic). Thus Latinos specify their national origins especially among themselves: “If I introduce you to someone I would say, ‘This is my friend, she’s from Peru.’
Or else I’d say, ‘She’s South American, or Peruvian’ ” (Ver6nica7Dominican Republic).
Indeed, regardless of their social class, informants did not necessarily understand the purpose of grouping everyone collectively as Hispanics:
It just doesn’t sound right to me. For example, if I’m with my people, I might say “South Americans,” as others would say “Central Americans” or “Carib- beans.” …we’re not just a lump, we know who everyone is-because even though we may use the same language, our cultures are different, and we have to think about what we’re going to say to different people and how we’re going to say it (Soledad, Colombia).
Thus, while mainstream U.S. society tends to erase the differences among populations with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean through a label such as Hispanic, my informants are more concerned with focusing their assertion of self in relation to other Latin American nationalities in the United States. Although they are fully aware of their commonalities (e.g., language use, geographical origins), they also they also affirm their respective selves through pointing to, and emphasizing, the distinctions-both subtle and otherwise – among themselves.
DEFINING THE SELF:
RACE, CLASS, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AND LANGUAGE
In defining the meaning of the term Hispanic for themselves, most informants showed themselves to be conscious of the differences among the various Latin American and Caribbean nationalities yet aware of the preju- dices that indiscriminately group Hispanics in the United States. It is not surprising, then, that they speculated about the weight of the various aspects of the definition that they identified, ranging from the geographical to the linguistic, national, and racial. Inevitably, they included their life experiences as immigrants as they tried to make sense of these various aspects in defining their selves vis i vis the value of the term Hispanic in their lives.
Some made specific reference to the term’s linguistic element: “They call us Hispanics because we speak Spanish” (Julibn, Peru). Others related the term specifically to nationality:
I don’t really know what Hispanic means: I think it’s all the people who come from Latin America, but I’m not sure. I know that people who are born here in the United States aren’t Hispanic. So, for example, one of my children, the one born in Peru, is Hispanic; the other isn’t because she was born in this country (Milagros, Peru).
Asked how she would categorize the child born in the United States, Milagros didn’t hesitate to answer: “Well, if she was born here, of course she’s an American.” Thus she views the term Hispanic as having a precise regional connotation, although she perceives its meaning to be strictly tied to people’s birthplaces rather than to their ethnicity. Another version of this approach combined the regional and the linguistic elements of the term: “It’s an undefined group name given to all the countries where Spanish is spoken” (M6nica, Dominican Republic).
Cynicism was also not absent from some of the informants’ explanations of the origins and meaning of the term: White people have a name for everybody else. From whites you came up with the word Hispanics, and spic. I mean, Puerto Ricans never call each other Hispanic. They never called each other spics. They never did. When they said Hispanics, that’s just a group of people that they’ve put together that speaks Spanish.
They just count all Latin people in one bunch. They do it to the blacks, too. I mean, come on, there’re more than just blacks. You got your American blacks, you got your African, your Jamaican; then you got your Puerto Rican blacks; some guys are darker than me. Then you got your Dominican blacks, you got white people that are dark-skinned. So you got your Hispanicsover here, which includes whatever race you want to put in it south of the border. Then you got your blacks, anything from the Congo down. Then you got your whites, which is Americans. ..(Juan, New York-born Puerto Rican).
Inviewoftheprevalenceofrace-relatedrepresentationsinNew YorkCity, it is perhaps not surprising that a New York-born Puerto Rican discussed the meaningof Hispanicin strictlyracial/ethnicterms. AlthoughJuan recognized the diversity within the various groups, he also had a firm perception of a two-tiered racial hierarchy made up of whites and everybody else in the United States. He defined Hispanic as including “whatever race you want to put in it south of the border,” while singling out whites as Americans. Indeed, although he clearly rejected Hispanic as a term of self-identification and focused instead on his nationality rather than race, Juan nevertheless implic- itly recognized that in this society his nationality and his race were conflated. Hence, as a Puerto Rican, his identity in this society was not white.
Interpreting the weight of the various components of the term Hispanic -race, class, national origins, and language – becomes an essential part of informants’ self-definitions and strategies of survival. Perhaps the clearest example of the extent to which this is true can be seen in one informant’s description of the problems raised for Hispanics by the 1990 census questionnaire:
If I were black and I spoke Spanish, I don’t know how I would have answered that census questionnaire. They put black down as a race and separated it from people who speak Spanish, and they didn’t have anything down for mestizos or for white Latin Americans. So when I was answering the census I said to myself, “Whoever did this made a lot of mistakes. Whoever did the census form wasn’t educated enough about race.”Because how wuld someone who is really black but speaks Spanish write down that he’s black? I kept wondering about that (Soledad, Colombia).
This criticism of the separation of race and language points to the prejudices Latin Americans confront in themselves as they come to terms withtheprevalenceofracialovernationalclassificationsintheUnitedStates. In fact, it illustrates Latin Americans’ public assignment of greater social value to culturalflinguistic attributes (speaking Spanish) than to skin color.
What emerges from this study is the extent to which informants drew on their social and cultural backgrounds and their life experiences as they tried to come to terms with the label Hispanic. Juan’s cynicism about the classifi- cation of Hispanics was the result of his lived experience as a Puerto Rican in the racially charged environment of New York City, where he grew up. Soledad’s questions stemmed from her own socially and culturally shaped Latin American perception that “whoever did the census form wasn’t edu- cated enough about race.” Where she comes from, Colombia, as in all other Latin American countries, the discourse on race distinctions has more grada- tions, and each gradation is strictly related to the individual’s social class position (Wade, 1985).
U.S. LATINOS: BEING AND BECOMING
The interviews in this study show that the way in which people with ties to Latin America and the Caribbean choose to identify themselves in this country is less a cultural imperative than a reflection of their direct experi- ences and their needs at a given conjuncture in their lives. It also expresses their expectations of and strategies for incorporation into the U.S. social structure.While as Latin Americans they may insist that they are as American as the gringos,their confrontation with race and class representations in U.S. society forces them to incorporate both these dimensions into their imagining of the “American community” (Anderson, 1983) and their construction of a sense of self in relation to the label Hispanic and the racial, class, national, and linguistic others attributed to them.
Whereas the middle-class informants tended to project their integration into this society and immediately adopt U.S. categories to measure their progress here, the working-class informants appeared more divided and ambivalent. They tended to continue to assess their sense of self in relation to their progress in terms of the standards of their old society- how much better off they were here.
Both groups knew that they were classified as Hispanic, but the way in which they positioned themselves in relation to this classification differed. Working-class informants positively evaluated their lives in this country relative to what they perceived to be their life chances in their home countries, but they were not naive about the extent to which they could advance in economic terms in U.S. society. The ambivalence they expressed toward the United States reflects an awareness of the limits imposed on their upward mobility by what they perceived as the prejudice and discrimination against Hispanics. The prejudiced, “low-class,” and negative connotations of the term Hispanic seemed to place a ceiling on how far they could rise. For them, ambivalence had become a way of positioning themselves in relation to both the old and the new society. In contrast to the working-class informants, the middle-class Latinos I interviewed appeared to expect immediate incorpora- tion into U.S. society on the grounds of their class, their education, and their social status in their own countries. Their sense of self and positioning vis-A-vis their new society did not necessarily correspond to that of the working-class informants.
Thus, in constructing the Latino self and a Latino social movement in the struggle for social justice in the United States, it is important to acknowledge themany”others”within-andagainst- whichLatinos’identitiesandsense of self are being forgotten. “I am what I am” is a dare, a challenge to all those who would question the existence of a Latin40 self in the United States. But it is also a reminder that identity is, as Stuart Hall (1990: 222) has argued, “a ‘production,’ which is never complete, always in process.” The homogeniz- ing quality of the label Hispanic is the result of mainstream U.S. society’s indifference to the distinctions within the Latinola population- whether the indifference refers to the diverse races, classes, languages, nationalities, linguistic or gendered experiences of the more than 25 million people identified as Hispanics or Latinoslas currently living in the United States. Yet the richness of the Latino ethos lies precisely k . i z a r ~ m a t i n gthe individual life histories and experiences as processes of being and becoming- in recognizing and acknowledging ik internalized others in the process of defining the self.
Padilla (1985: 167) points to the need for research focusing on “the collective and emergent character” of Latinola ethnic behavior. Although that behavior clearly depends on the extent to which Latinola interests can be class-based histories and experiences within the populations with ties to Latin American and the Caribbean, to identify oneself as a Latinola is a conscious choice not only acknowledging one’s history and sociocultural background but also recog- nizing the need to struggle for social justice. In this sense, more than solely a culturally dictated fact of life, identifying oneself as Latinola and partici- pating in a Latino social movement is a political decision. By making that decision in these terms, those who recognize one another as Latinos through their ideological advocacy of social justice will be able to express the strength of la comunidad with greater force. They will also be more likely to assert, as do the Moraleses in their poem, that “We are whole.”