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TinotopiaLog → Ethnic Identity and Words (25 Aug 2003)
Monday 25 August 2003

Ethnic Identity and Words

The Washington Post today has a story about people who come from the Western Hemisphere, but south of the Rio Grande, and the problems they apparently have about what to call themselves.

On a recent summer’s day, Sandra Cisneros walked into Valenzuela’s Latino Bookstore and thought she had discovered a treasure. It was one of the few independent book sellers in her home town of San Antonio, and on top of that, she said, its name appealed directly to her.

But within minutes, her mood changed. A clerk innocently used a word to describe a section of books that made Cisneros’s skin crawl. “She used the word Hispanic,” Cisneros said, her voice dripping with indignation. “I wanted to ask her, ‘Why are you using that word?’ “

If your big problem is that another member of your own ethnic group is using a word to describe him or herself that isn’t actually offensive but that you don’t like, you don’t have a problem.

“People who use that word don’t know why they’re using it,” said Cisneros, a Mexican American poet and novelist. “To me, it’s like a slave name. I’m a Latina.”

That declaration — “I’m a Latina” — is resounding more and more through the vast and diverse Spanish-speaking population that dethroned African Americans as the nation’s largest ethnic group a few months ago.

However, this is only because ‘Hispanic’ isn’t the same kind of category as ‘Black’ or ‘White’ or ‘Asian’. (Also note how ‘African American’ is ‘ethnic’, but ‘European American’ or anything else involving ‘white’ people is not.) You can be Black, White, or Asian and still be ‘Hispanic’. Further, if all ethnic identities were accorded the same status as Hispanicity, you’d find that Germans are actually the largest ethnic group in the United States. It just doesn’t seem that way, because German-Americans aren’t constantly going on about how being German makes them special and different.

And this article ran on the front page of the Post. Goes to show you what August brings in the news business.

Anyway, what does the guy responsible for this hateful, hateful, ‘slave name’ word in the bookshop have to say?

At the Latino bookstore Cisneros visited, owner Richard Martinez didn’t know what to think. “I don’t know which is correct,” he said. “I’m a Mexican, a Latino, a Hispanic, whatever. Be who you are. Be proud, like everyone else.”

He sounds like an American to me.

Posted by tino at 22:15 25.08.03
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