From Ongoing, an working essay
I was an American and a Texan legally at birth courtesy of the Constitution before I became a Mexican-American sometime in the mid-1960s courtesy of the civil rights movement and a Hispanic in the 1980’s courtesy of the Census Bureau before I became a Latino in the 1990s courtesy of Frank del Olmo of The Los Angeles Times.
I knew and liked Frank and liked Latino very much, and like my family and peers and community and America itself, I was always in the process of becoming. Many years later, I still am all of the above and have become much more—along with the 50 million Hispanics and/or Latinos who have moved America into a new phase and chapter in its history.
Today—the age of information and of a new demography—is not about being Hispanic or Latino. Today is about something else entirely. It is about vision. It is about the road ahead. It is not about a fanciful post-racial history; it is about prelude to survival as the American economy contracts in the face of global competition. Unmindful of what the future has deposited at our doorstep, many of us, forced to use labels to feed demographic data computer banks of a diverse nation, can engage in drawn-out discussions about whether we are Hispanic or Latino or neither.
For me, other definitions about the future matter more, such as leadership—especially leadership of thought that can redefine a community and that gives it greater purpose. The future is not about labels as it is about self-leadership that culminates in personal and professional success.
Others might have time to dwiddle and dwaddle about terms and labels. For me, HispanicLatino suffices. It fits all, combines all. Indeed, the future might well demand that we become more HispanicLatino and more American simultaneously.
Wrestling over names is as old as humankind itself. The battle over what to call Beijing, the capitol city of a nation with more than one billion people, has raged for centuries. HispanicLatinos, who would comprise less than four percent of China’s population, could be allowed a fight that has lasted only several decades—but now has to end.
That is not to say the HispanicLatino community is not inchoate. Indeed, it can seem highly disparate. America itself is an amorphous mass. The identity of HispanicLatinos, symbolized by a clash over taglines, is still in the making because America’s identity itself is always in the making. This is a monumental consideration for a future that is not going to be what we thought it was – and the manner by which we create the new America will greatly influence what we ultimately become.
A vastly changed economy, a furiously aging and changing population, a fiercely competitive world, a worrisome climate, a loss of faith in institutions—these are the subjects driving the make up of our new being, and the debate they sow and the anxiety they breed is changing the very definition of what an American is. Already, some Americans want to amend the Constitution to exclude many legally-born citizens from being considered Americans. However boorish the threat, the more important point is how easy it seems to change what an American is – revealing a fragility in that nation’s identity that is becoming increasingly more fluid and worrisome.
That so fundamental a change as amending the Constitution is milling about casually in the air and that the economic and fiscal condition of the country is increasingly in doubt should be enough to convince HispanicLatinos of the need to develop a new way forward.
HispanicLatinos are a creative, sound and hard-working people. We have survived much because we believe in—and expect—so much more. It matters greatly who we are and what we can become—and how we get there.
Not what we call ourselves.