After all the huffing and puffing, the ongoing discussion about the Hispanic and/or Latino labels sort of misses the point. Yes, Hispanic is a confected term, and, yes, Latino, is not far behind but Latino is personally more acceptable to many of us who are Americans but cannot go around town calling ourselves Paraguayans, Colombians, Dominicans, Cubans or Mexicans first but who yet feel differently about our selves, meaning our identity. Thus the discussion – wholesome, necessary and inevitable – is not about a label but about identity, a term that is as much about who we are as it is about purpose in life.
This discussion is being had again because the rest of society – in this case the Pew Hispanic Center – has asked a question of us that underlies the questions that the country has about the Hispanic/Latino population. The debate would not be as important to individual HispanicLatinos if no on else cared. But the fact of the matter is that the country cares – very much. The country minds because it cares a lot about race, and the citizens of our not-too-sophisticated nation carelessly mix up race and ethnicity and national origin and culture with labels and skin colors.
HispanicLatinos engaging in this debate often fail to keep in mind the historical context of the formation of the country’s character: It formed over conflict over race, and it has not gotten over it. And as the composition of the population continues to change, the debate is not going to go away. If anything, it is going to intensify, given the socioeconomic standing of a group that is not progressing fast enough – as a whole – to fill the void a receding “Anglo” population is creating. Only an economically successful HispanicLatino population will keep theUnited Statesfiscally and financially viable in the future. The ongoing social and economic development of the HispanicLatino is a national security concern. So our sense and sensibilities should not revolve around past or present labels as much as about the immediate, critical future.
For that reason and that reason alone – to bring about national awareness of the importance of the HispanicLatino population to the country and to raise the consciousness within the HispanicLatino population itself – is it time to unify a population that must have a coherent view of itself and its future. HispanicLatinos need a statement of purpose within a new intellectual framework that evolves from, within and for the individual self. HispanicLatinos do not need to form another national organization as much as they need to form a new identity that collectively could help seeAmerica through in the years ahead.
The presumed differences among a population that takes in members from the 18 Spanish-speaking countries of the hemisphere are mere vanities to be jettisoned in light of the new, history-making responsibilities HispanicLatinos bear. The need to have one’s existence acknowledged gives rise to the perception of irreversible differences within the HispanicLatino community. Without a more focused and forward-leaning view of the future, it is easy to see why many HispanicLatinos who share many similarities demonstrate highly disparate behavior – to the point of assuming counterintuitive philosophical positions counterproductive to their interests.
It seems logical to expect that the temptation to play out the experiences of the past in a common cultural crucible will be made irrelevant by the exigencies of an increasingly globalized and compacted world. A new, universal existence looms that requires a new, universal unity of effort to turn back threats to the earth’s very existence. In the same vein, it is reasonable to expect that their close proximity ultimately – and the flow of history inevitably – will amalgamate HispanicLatino subgroups to attain common objectives. For those who believe in a post-racial world, why would the unification of HispanicLatinos be the exception?
The expansion of the HispanicLatino population across the land should not be about extending old rivalries or increasing personal insecurities or prolonging discussions about labels. The future – with perhaps the very fate of humanity at stake – is by far more important.
Feel free to forward these blogs adapted from previous writings, with additional thoughts published invariably in between.