Many Latinos in America denounce being labeled as a collective
n a recent article I wrote for Latino Rebels titled, White Latinos Don’t Exist, Wannabes Do, I discussed how Latinos who shed their Latinidad (Latino-ness) to identify as white are detrimental to the success of the Latino community in America. As is typical of social media performative activism, most argued against the headline instead of the context of the article. Of course, white-looking Latinos exist. The problem is that whiteness is a construct built by white supremacy for the sake of othering non-white people as inferior.
So then, where does that leave so-called “white” Latinos?
Sure, my piece had some blind spots because my focus was on the racist and xenophobic Latinos who express anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-immigrant beliefs. In other words, they sound just like every other white supremacist in America. And that’s what this is about, isn’t it? It’s about Latinos embracing not just whiteness, but American white supremacy.
As expected, many attacked me because the history of Anglo-Latinos is a result of colonization in Latin America. I know Latin American history pretty well, so I understood where they were coming from. And while white supremacy exists in Latin America and shares some commonalities with American white supremacy, they are not wholly similar. American white supremacy props up white supremacy in Latin America. Just look at how American interventionism impacts Latin American nations.
While I learned a lot from the discourse surrounding my article, I couldn’t help but realize that many were taking the article to places it wasn’t meant to go for the purposes of calling me anti-Black or anti-Indigenous. The basis for that was one simple word: Latinidad. A label adopted by sociologist Felix Padilla in the 1980s for the purpose of unifying the study of Latinos in America through the lens of our shared identity and oppression.
Padilla’s use of Latinidad was meant to be all-inclusive. It provided an opportunity for Latinos to unite under a single banner for the sake of exploring our collective political power. But as with Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx, there is controversy around every label applied to the community.
Academics and scholars have used Latinidad for 35 years as a way to describe the similarities in the discrimination and the struggles all Latinos face in America. However, last year the word was apparently canceled for what some argue is the erasure Afro-Latino and Indigenous voices. Many of the essays and think-pieces I’ve read on the topic made some very valid arguments.
But at what point do we coalesce as a singular voting bloc, as the United States socio-political world identifies us, while still having the discussions that address the myriad issues in our communities collectively?
Like whiteness, Latinidad is a social construct. The difference between Latinidad and whiteness, however, is Latinidad was meant to encompass “a particular geopolitical experience but it also contains within it the complexities and contradictions of immigration, (post)(neo)colonialism, race, color, legal status, class, nation, language and the politics of location,” as Juana Maria Rodriguez expressed in her book, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces.
Whiteness, on the other hand, is not meant to be inclusive by its very nature.
In the Journal of Latinos and Education, Guadalupe San Miguel explores an “approach for investigating the school activism of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans in the history of education.” The article suggests a more inclusive and comparative approach to Latino activism deepening the understanding of the complex struggles for equality and pluralism in American education. In other words, the concept of Latinidad is supposed to allow us to discuss the amalgamations of Latin American cultures outside of any singular national frame.
The use of Latinidad as a way to create a shared cultural identity out of disparate elements and in order to wield political and social power through Latino solidarity is rather common. It’s a word I’ve used as a vehicle to efficiently and concisely call out racist Latinos. I use Latinidad as a framework to address the betrayal of Latinos who shed their Latino-ness and identify as white to appease white supremacy; to separate Anglo-Latinos from the meaning of whiteness in the U.S. in an attempt to address aligning themselves with American-styled hate.
“How can any of you find solace in aligning with the ideals of white supremacist’s anti-immigrant rhetoric?” — From my article titled: Open Letter to My Hispanic Brothers and Sisters (published in 2018)
It’s also worth noting that Afro-Latinidad has been an area of study in academia for over a decade. When the book, The Afro-Latin@ Reader was published in 2009, it opened people’s eyes to the pervasive racism among the Latino community and the “ethnocentrism of the American Black community.” Since then, Afro-Latino studies have allowed us to shed the notion that Latinos, Indigenous, and Black folks are distinct cultures or categories. Particularly when Indigenous and Afro-Latinos are such a vibrant and large part of the collective community.
While there are clear disconnects between academia and our communities, there’s a lot to learn from the work academics have done and continue to do. Our job as writers and members of the community should be to try and bridge that divide. My discussions with academics further clarify those disconnects. But the disconnects aren’t one-sided. Many advocates and activists don’t rely on academia enough — thus having just as many blind spots as we claim academia has.
So, where does that leave us? In the same place we’ve always been. Bickering about the language used to describe us rather than utilizing our collective community to grow our political power in the U.S. While we may be a massive voting bloc defined as Latinos, electoral representation of our community is lacking on the local, state, and federal level. In other words, white supremacy is still making decisions for us and controlling our overall community to the detriment of every Latino. Looking at you Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
In terms of using the word Latinidad, I recommend exercising caution or not using it at all if possible. Regardless, now we’re having conversations about the use of Latinx and some have made more significant arguments discussing how even that excludes the Afro and Indigenous Latino communities. All of this is fine. As long as we maintain focus on elevating the community as a whole and speaking up for those who are most underserved in the U.S.
According to a recent Pew Research survey, the top political concerns for Latinos are the economy, healthcare, and COVID-19. In this sense, whatever language is used to identify us and who created it becomes irrelevant. This doesn’t mean we don’t get to identify how we choose as opposed to appeasing colonialist language. But as we move forward we can not argue against the commonalities we all share living within the same political system in the U.S.
Make no mistake, Latinos in America suffer from systematic oppression built on the same premise that has been used to oppress Black Americans for centuries. This does not mean that I’m comparing our plight to that of Black America because to do so would be an asinine fallacy of epic proportions and this isn’t a contest. But we can’t deny that white supremacy knows what works in the othering of minority communities. I point this out specifically to wannabe white Latinos who side with whiteness for their own selfish (and racist) interests. One contributor to Latino Rebels who refers to Chicanos as “The Beige Brigade” disavowed my “White Latinos Don’t Exist” article by using the assumptive suggestion that I was making a comparison to the suffering of Black folks for the sake of calling me a racist.
Nice try, bro. But no. My body of anti-racist work speaks for itself.
The racists in our community are obvious to those who are oppressed by their actions. Go to Florida or Texas or Arizona or California or Chicago and see how more light-skinned Latinos treat darker-skinned Latinos. They are who I’m addressing when I talk about the myriad ways Latinos are discriminated against; whether it’s for our Spanish surnames or because we aren’t white enough or we’re not Brown enough. Despite all of this, some light-skinned Latinos shed their Latinidad (there’s that word again) for the sole purpose of aligning with white supremacy. They are who is detrimental to the overall community in the U.S. and in Latin America.
Tony Diaz, who taught me the importance of cultural acceleration, recently penned an essay (that was later published by Latino Rebels) talking about community disorganizers. A term not lost on me as I wrote a piece for Latino Rebels days before touching on the same topic. Diaz argues, “The tragedy is that all the bickering about our identity labels can be addressed by taking just one Ethnic Studies course,” and he’s absolutely correct.
Latinos don’t need a singular identity label other than for socio-political purposes. Aside from that, we are who we are: diverse asf.
Let me start by making a few key points:
- If you’re going to come for me, an anti-racist Cuban, you should probably familiarize yourself with my work. Otherwise, you look and sound out of touch and undereducated.
- Don’t be the person who denounces modern white Latinos as colonizers, particularly in the United States, where no one in our community wields that kind of political power.
- If you are so divisive that you refer to Chicanos as “The Beige Brigade” you’ve already lost all credibility with me when discussing race issues within the Latino community.
- If you’re mad at me for calling out your bigotry, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia, GOOD. That means the message was received. Be mad about it.
I literally don’t care what you think if you fall into any of the categories listed above. What I do care about is calling out the anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, homophobia, transphobia, and the myriad bigotry that persists in the Latino community. This path, which I chose, is ugly, deep, and comes with great risk. Anti-racism work in one of the most complex communities in the world was going to be tough. I knew that going in and I don’t regret it.
But who else is really doing the work in this arena? Many Latinos who are critical of my work may talk about it on occasion, but they’re not doing the actual work. I’ve seen many make the arguments for the use of identity for the sake of inclusivity. But do you really think that will change anything? Of course not. All it has accomplished is creating an avenue for the community disruptors Tony Diaz talks about. We need to address the problem individually and within our respective communities. Again, Tony Diaz was attacked in the comments sections on social media just as I was. Not nearly as bad, but he was attacked nonetheless.
And that’s the problem within our community. We are constantly attacking each other for the use of certain words to the disservice of addressing the broader issues. Latinos say that we are not a monolith, and I agree. But we can not deny the commonalities within every one of our communities when it comes to colorism; the othering of people in our community solely for the color of their skin, their sexuality, their gender, or how they chose to identify.
I may look white, but I don’t identify as such because it’s detrimental to the Afro-Latinos in my family, of which there are more of them than there are of me. I am an Anglo-Latino who denounces whiteness because it is a social construct for the sole purpose of othering non-white people and oppressing those groups. While racism and colorism are real, race is not. We all come from differing ethnic backgrounds — including white people.
The only reason Anglo-Latinos identify as white, just as Anglo-Americans do, is because they believe in the oppression of non-white people and no longer identify with their ethnic backgrounds. Ethnicity is defined as the state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. Since America is made up of so many bastardized “national and cultural traditions” from other nations, I argue that whiteness doesn’t exist.
If that bothers you, take an ethnic studies course as Tony Diaz suggests.
Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. He collaborates with many in Academia in discussing the issues mentioned here. If you’d like to learn more, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here.