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If This 7-Year-Old Isn’t “Latina Enough,” Who Is?

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Hispanic and Latino Aren’t Always Synonyms

Depending on how you define Latino and Hispanic, we come in all races — Black, Asian, Native American, and yes, even the white descendants of European settlers. Most of us are a mix of more than one of these groups, which makes defining us as a group a little difficult.

Some of us come from countries that have never spoken Spanish as a national language, like Brazil (Portuguese), Guyana (English), Suriname (Dutch), or French Guiana — so while those people are clearly Latin American, the term “Hispanic” doesn’t apply. Some Filipinos, residents of a former Spanish colony, define themselves as Hispanic, but because they’re not from Latin America, the term “Latino” doesn’t fit. And let’s not even get into the contentious label “Chicano,” which involves one part Mexican heritage and another part political identity.

Complicating the issue is the fact that some Latinos can be incredibly racist. Within Latin American countries, a racial hierarchy often exists with Blacks on the bottom and Native Americans slightly higher up, followed by people of mixed heritage, with Caucasians at the top of the ladder. Many Hispanic immigrants and their descendants retain the same attitudes toward race, despite the fact that American society tends to lump all Latinos together regardless of origin, language, or race. This puts many Latinos in the awkward position of being both perpetrators and victims of racism, sometimes within their own ethnic community.

So what does it mean to be Hispanic? To be Latino? Can a beauty pageant be open to one group and not the other? Should the overarching ethnic group include people who may fit one definition and not the other? Personally, I err on being as inclusive as possible, but not everyone feels that way, as evidenced by the uproar over Jakiyah’s win.

Wasting Time on Definitions Distracts From the Real Issues

The question of who qualifies as Hispanic is so difficult that the Census Bureau uses one simple measure to determine who falls into the category: if you define yourself as Hispanic, then the U.S. government considers you Hispanic. End of story.

By this definition, it’s physically impossible to be 25%, 50%, or 75% Hispanic. You simply are, or you’re not. Obviously, leaving this category up to self-identification isn’t causing massive numbers of people without Latin American or Spanish heritage to define themselves as something they’re not — in 2012 only 17% of the US population defined themselves as Hispanic.

If this is the official government measure, is it reasonable to demand the type of proof that the McKoy family is being asked to provide? Obviously, there are issues of more pressing concern in the world than the title in a children’s beauty contest — but that’s exactly why the Hispanic community needs push back against this ridiculous policing of who’s “real” and who doesn’t make the cut.

Latinos continue to face significant disparities in health care, education, employment, and even home ownership compared to the U.S. population as a whole. We continue to be underrepresented in the political sphere, and millions of us have undocumented friends or family members who face difficult and unique legal challenges. In states like Arizona and Alabama, we are blatantly discriminated against.

There isn’t time to waste trying to decide who is and isn’t “Latino enough.” We need to all be in this fight together.

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9:48PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

From reading these comments, I conclude that Hispanic/Latino is difficult, if not impossible, to define, and that the U. S. Census approach is the best. If you say you're Hispanic/Latino, you are.

I recall similar arguments about "Who is Jewish?" Is being Jewish a matter of religion, culture, race, ...??? Either Ann Landers or Abigail VanBuren (they were Jewish twin sisters and competing advice columnists) said what I believe. If you say you're Jewish, then you're Jewish.

After all, few people claim to be members of despised minorities, if they're not. My father probably could have claimed to be African American, but he chose not to, because life is much easier when you have white privilege.

10:30AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

thank you to all the comments that mentioned there's no such thing as race.

Like the article points out, being Latino refers to many things, (ancestry, language, culture, community, country of origin, etc) that don't have anything to do with skin colour or whatever physical feature. From what I understand, being Latino is more of a cultural heritage that people identify themselves to.

Now, some people thought of bringing the ugly concept of race into the appalling phenomenon of child beauty pageants... that's how little kids hearts get broken. And who knows what scars that'll leave behind, as the child grows up.

7:28PM PDT on Oct 4, 2013


4:54PM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Ref: David J. comment to my views. David I hear your voice. Let's address La Raza(the race) should have been Ethnicity> But, like the NAACP organization it too was created to organize the people and empower their voices under the Constitution. Historically USA political system has traditionally been controlled by the powerful those with deep pockets and the voice of the little people was never heard, perhaps suppressed is more fitting. Wealth conquers all. This past presidential election finally the power of the people spoke and now specifically the Republican party are trying to undo what the little people voted for ObamaCare to even shutdown the country. Do you get my beef what forces citizens to create organizations to empower them to the same rights?? Voting for one!

1:43PM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

who gives a damn, SHE is an american, not an hispanic american, this drivel of devision as in african american or mexican american or islamic american is the greatest deviser in this country and is designed simply to continue the devision of america, if you are born here you are american only, it doesn't matter what your family background is and until people can learn that this country will stay devided

11:26PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

If one were to acknowledge races, and yes, there are actual real differences (beside "skin color" which is not even a good indicator of "race", viz most Ethiopians are actually Caucasian as well as all Mid-easterners) such as dentition, health issues, bone structure, skull structure, etc...; "Latino" would not fall under this definition for numerous reasons. Most people who are labeled or even classify themselves as "Latino" are actually "mestizos"- a combination of European Caucasians and native indigenous tribes. In addition, there are certain areas in Central and South America where "pure" Caucasians or "pure" indigenous people live. I have encountered people from Mexico City who are blonde and blue-eyed. In addition, there can be vast differences between the cultures of different countries- even some major linguistic differences, e.g., Argentina still uses "vosotros/as" which is fairly unique among Central and South America and the Caribbean islands. Latino is as much a race as Celtic is.

6:45PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

There is no such thing as RACE! There is skin color, culture, geographical connection...but we all originated in Africa and we're as diverse as people who still live there. Just because some of us evolved light skin/eyes, advantageous physical characteristics, etc, doesn't mean we're not the same underneath that skin.

6:43PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Diana...I'm trying to send you a green star for your wise and informed comments but it doesn't seem to work. So...GREEN STAR to you! :-)

It's not just Americans...look at all the categories people have imposed on South Africans, for example. I'm afraid many humans throughout history have had the idea of ''race'' to separate people. And it's just wrong.

Look at all the people with mixed genetic heritage who are still categorized as "black," not just in the US but in Europe, too. I loved seeing Brazil,,, where there are so many skin colors it's impossible to categorize anyone and nobody tries!

We're so "politically correct'' that we've resorted to terms like "African American," which is ludicrous, since it refers to people with dark skin...many of whom are from places like India, the Maldives, etc.....and have no cultural connection to Africa at all!

If we really NEED to describe someone, words like "African American" lose all meaning when you consider the beautiful actress, Charlize Theron, for example, who was born in South Africa and recently became an American citizen. Millions of people in Africa are as pale-skinned as I am....and they're as African as Nelson Mandela.

6:29PM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Thanks for the info, didn't know it was so complicated.

9:49AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

well said, Aurea

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