census_form_commentaryBy Dr. Henry Flores, NewsTaco

¡No me digas!  We still haven’t got past this issue!  I used to take part in these debates/discussions back in the early 1970s but the more that la gente have become concerned with their identity the more this discussion rages.

¡Por favor!    Let’s put this issue to rest and move on to something more important like obtaining good immigration policy, funding for more education and health care, homes for the homeless, and peace for the world’s people.

Burla a lado, this issue is important for two fundamental political reasons.  A proper designation allows for a correct census count that allows the federal government to mete out certain types of funds to each state based on racial proportions in that state’s population.  More fundamental though is that a correct count of Hispanics, Latinos, and so forth allows for a more precise population allocation when drawing congressional and other representational districts.  Which gives us, Latinos, a place at the national, state, and local policy making tables.

Other than these two reasons, who cares what we call ourselves except for each individual!  Some gente are very sensitive about the labels seeing ideological, spiritual and deep historical meanings to each label.  Frankly, I can see and agree with all the arguments but lets take a little time and have a frank and honest discussion of this issue just so we can get all our cards on the table.  The bottom line is that since I really don’t care about any of the labels I am probably the one individual who can honestly take a shot at all of them.

So, let’s get down to the basics.  The first and most influential label, its influential because this label appears to have been the one that really started public discourse and debate over this identity issue, is Hispanic.  The origins of this label have nothing to do with heritage or language but with pure and simple politics.  A census advisory board convened prior to the 1980s, Republican appointed and numerically dominated by Cubans, felt that the term Hispanic could create an umbrella label allowing them access to higher percentages of federal monies.  If the Cubans had allowed themselves to be identified in the census by national origin group, they represent less than 5% of all Latinos, then they would have been at a disadvantage to Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans.

Like so many other mythological truths Hispanic, which is also such a culturally nonthreatening term, after many years of media and public use became the accepted identifier for all Spanish Speaking origin people in the United States.  All conservatives feel unthreatened by the term Hispanic, many individuals who feel guilt about their national origin found the term Hispanic safe enough to use as a cover, and you could use it in schools to keep teachers, administrators and assorted other education-types from discriminating against our children.

Hispanic, as an identifier, left much to be desired and just was too easy for institutions to use so the great debate found it’s way into the public eye.  This debate/discourse/discussion found its way from street corners through academia and into the courts.  Ethnic identification among Spanish Speaking origin people in the United States (that’s a mouthful) just does not want to go away.  The fundamental problem is that the issue is so complex and can be viewed from so many perspectives that I really don’t think a general consensus can ever be reached.  This discourse has something peculiarly Latino about it.  It reminds me of those public debates or discussions one encounters on street corners in San Juan, Puerto Rico where a radio talk show host is sitting on a stool engaging a crowd asking them pointed questions about public topics.  Everyone is talking and shouting their opinion and they continually drag any passerby into the discussion.

All polemics aside, this issue is important because the United States Bureau of the Census must develop an identifier to accurately count all Hispanics, Latinos, and/or Raza.  I don’t really think we can ever reach an agreement as to what a national identifier will be satisfying everyone because we are such a heterogeneous group.  We derive our origins from every national origin group in the western hemisphere and more; we have indigenous, black, Asian and European roots; and, the Spanish we speak has so many dialects they are almost impossible to catalogue.

On a personal note, I don’t know how many of you feel the same way I do but I’m sure my feelings are not unique, I identify as a Latino, Chicano, Mexican American who has adopted Argentina as my second home.  My family is third generation on one side and many, many generations American on the other.  When I hear Spanish from Argentina or Mexico it makes me happy and I feel secure.  Frankly, I’m at home anywhere in the Spanish Speaking World.

My perception is let’s stop clouding the discussion on this issue and let those working on an identifier create one that includes all of us.  We need this to protect our right to vote, access to education, public health and education minimally.  As to an individual preference, bueno, choose what makes you feel comfortable in your skin but don’t do anything that will do harm to our civil rights and protections.

[Photo by Being Latino]

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