Is being a Latino reason enough to comprehend the complexity of race?
Scrolling through my Twitter feed in 2015 often involved me shaking my head in disbelief. I disagreed with plenty of things going on, but more so than disagreement I felt a strong urge to join the online buzz. Social media makes it incredibly easy for people to think their opinions matter — regardless of whether it’s the right one or the wrong one. Even knowing this, I still had that permanent feeling that my voice should be added to the disucssion. However I often held back. A social media savy millennial holding back on opinions? You must be kidding!
Yep it’s true and here’s why.
Race is an issue that fascinates me on multiple levels. It fascinates me on a societal level, on a political and economic dimension. How race is portrayed in the media intrigues me, how my friends and family discuss it, but above all race beckons me on a personal level. The simple fact that I was born in Venezuela makes me a Latino according to societal standards. For all intents and purposes I check the Latino/Hispanic box on government forms. However I have always hesitated before jumping into discussions on race, regardless of whether they are online or in person, for the simple fact that I don’t know if being born in Venezuela entitles me to that right. I guess the bottom line is I am uncomfortable endorsing someone’s credibility simply because soceity determines you are part of a specific race.
There lies my hesitation. Is being categorized as Latino reason enough to be a valid voice on Latino issues? I’ve met plenty of people from my own country that don’t look “Latino”, people that have lived immersed in other societies. They also check the Latino/Hispanic box I am sure, but for me it goes beyond that. Experiences and interactions add layers in determining credibility in any discussion on race; or gender, or religion for that matter. It’s something that comes up constantly in the U.S. Presidential election race, is Marco Rubio a credible voice for Latino voters simply because he is Cuban-American? Are Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina the most appropiate to talk about women issues because they are women? A similar issue comes up for me when engaging with police shootings — an issue that dominated news cycle after news cycle in 2015. One side claims that law enforcement doesn’t see race, when someone seems dangerous you shoot back before they shoot you. The other angrily declares that the opposite is true, certain races are more prone to being shot at than others. Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri, Tamir Rice in Ohio; all these names should be familiar, all these cases ignited a fiery debate in our society. As they should.
I don’t feel my minority race status gives me credibility in discussing these issues. I believe my experiences and interactions should. Being a Latino doesn't allow me to understand why a white police officer shooting and killing a black person raises hell. My life experience– the people I’ve met, the moments I have lived through allow me to understand. One of my friends, who is white and whose dad was a police officer, could not comprehend why there was any debate on this issue. I don’t think his race determined his opinion, I think his life experience determined that.
To conclude and answer my own question: No, I don’t think being a Latino is reason enough to understand the complexity of race. I don’t think it prohibits me from understanding it either. If someone really wants to understand race and how it impacts society and the individuals that compose it, it is up to them to do so. Skin color, language, religion — don’t determine who we are, our actions do.