Why I am not a Latino

Over the last half century I have been referred to as Mexican, Mexican-American, then there was the brief Chicano period, then Hispanic, then American of Mexican Ancestry then Latino. I was never consulted on any of these labels. Very tiresome. What will it be next?

Latino evolved from the label “Hispanic” devised by a U.S. Government committee. A government contrived and approved label. This label is now the “official” term the U.S government and media uses for people with origins in the Spanish speaking countries. As of 2014 only 20% of “Latinos” embraced the term. The 20% probably work for the corporations, media, academia, political parties and NGO’s which use this term to label a large portion of the U.S. population. Before “Latino”, “Hispanic” was devised to “track” the social and economic progress of people in the United States with origins in the Spanish speaking world. Much like tags placed on dolphins or pelicans to track their movements and learn of their ways, minorities and others are tracked obsessively by U.S. government agencies, politicians and marketers. For reasons unclear, the terms used in the 1970 Census, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, South American, Spanish, Other, were seemingly too diverse and just too much to handle and a committee decided to just simply things and just aggregate the groups under the term “Hispanic”. Wikipedia tells us:

The term Hispanic was adopted by the United States government in the early 1970s specifically for Eduardo Ramos during the administration of Richard Nixon after the Hispanic members of an interdepartmental Ad Hoc Committee where asked to develop racial and ethnic definitions and recommended that a universal term encompassing all Hispanic subgroups — including Central and South Americans — be adopted. As the 1970 census did not include a question on Hispanic origin on all census forms — instead relying on a sample of the population via an extended form (“Is this person’s origin or descent: Mexican; Puerto Rican; Cuban; Central or South American; Other Spanish; or None of these”)the members of the Ad Hoc Committee wanted a common designation to better track the social and economic progress of the group vis-à-vis the general population. The designation has since been used in local and federal employment, mass media, academia, and business market research. It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980. Because of the popularity of “Latino” in the western portion of the United States, the government adopted this term as well in 1997, and used it in the 2000 census.

As this was done in the 1970s one can imagine a committee of “experts” in bright suits with wide lapels with long sideburns and aviator glasses opining while meeting in a depressing government office determining a convenient name to call millions of different individuals from multiple national backgrounds and cultures. They settled on “Hispanic” and in many quarters in officialdom this term is still used but “Latino” turned out to be popular in California and is the term the media, academics and politicians currently use most.

Advances in data science and computation permit the creation of hundreds if not thousands of classifications for people. If a small supermarket can manage data on 10,000 items surely corporations and government in their obsession to label can do better than just Latino. Its an information age folks!

Were an Equatorial Guinean and a Spanish speaking Berber from Ceuta to immigrate to the U.S. and fill out a form they would be just be two more Latinos. Much is lost through standardization. That the term favored by right thinking sophisticates and contemporary activists emerged from a Nixon administration initiative should give them pause.

The size of the Latino population in the U.S, along with a few common linguistic and cultural features have made us a target for politicians. That the interests and needs of recent immigrants are conflated with those of a 5th generation U.S. citizen from San Antonio Texas or San Juan Puerto Rico is testament to the sloppy thinking wrought by identity politics. Its funny but true that every election cycle pundits and experts are wondering how to get out the Latino vote and they are always baffled why we don’t turn out as a homogeneous monolith voting lock step — it should not be a mystery.

Some want to save us from ourselves and others want to be rid of us. Like most issues debated in the U.S., there are stark extremes. Job robbing rapists on the one hand and hapless hard working simpletons who need a social worker to cope with life. Like most matters of importance in U.S, Politics oversimplification is misleading at best and typically misses the point altogether. Most Americans are facing worsening economic prospects so the steady drumbeat from the political left for more privileges and benefits will fall on deaf if not hostile ears. Calls from the nativist right for exporting millions would prove a logistical and economic disaster. The problems facing all Americans elude many political leaders trapped in old ideas and serving the interests of yesterday rather than the needs of today. Academics and journalists further old ideas by adhering to a narrative unchanged in a generation. Will a life of more stuff, more voting, more entertainment and smart phones, better cars and more leisure lay ahead? Will more voting save us all? Probably not, but all manner of possible futures with more meaningful lives and peace is possible if we stop thinking about ways of extending yesterdays ideas into perpetuity. We the 80% who don’t like the term Latino are individuals from many backgrounds, nations, cultures, classes and perspectives going about the business of being Americans.