Nobody's Panic

There's seemingly no identifier that fits neatly into a box

By Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: August 7, 2005

Nobody's Panic

This from one of the most respected civil/human rights activists in this country, Betita Martinez: ?Why do you use the term Hispanic even along with Latino? It is so racist.?

This was in reference to organizations that have taken a liking to torture-enabler Alberto Gonzales. The organizations alluded to actually self-identify in that manner. But to her point:

Ever since the government created and imposed the Hispanic identifier, it's gotten little or no respect.

?I'm not His panic or Her panic or Anybody's panic!?

I heard that line so many times in the 1980s that it practically became a national anthem for those who dislike the term. (That seems to be just about everyone except those in the lumping business, particularly media types).

I once heard a borracho recite those lines as Sacramento poet Jose Montoya was performing at a restaurant. The borracho kept slurring those lines, yet Jose didn't panic. Neither did anyone else.

Many people don't like the term because it oxymoronically Anglocizes or Hispanizes native peoples. Many simply don't like the idea of government imposing it, particularly because it connotes the re-colonization of peoples who threw off the yoke of 19th century Spanish imperialism. (That's wholesale identity theft, in modern lingo.)

As a result, people don't know which word to use in public. Many believe Mexican is an insult. And they also don't know whether it's proper to use Hispanic or Latino in ?polite conversation.? (No doubt they've been exposed to groups that insist they're neither. I once visited a web site that had about 10 other things they were not to the point beyond obnoxiousness.

For me, identity is spirit, not subject to a label, nor to governmental or corporate approval. Foor me, to impose identity is to wreak violence against the spirit.

With that said, I could care less how anyone addresses me, as long as they do so respectfully. Where I draw the line is with government and right wing whackos. I think bureaucrats should stay out of the identity business altogether. Similarly, the whackos, should become literate and quit showing off their ignorance about terms such as La Raza -- which they believe means ?the race? (as opposed to the people).

The truth is, every people and culture live with similar impositions.

Therein lies the dilemma as to why it's difficult to get a consensus as to who these peoples are. Some answer in racial terms, whereas others answer in cultural, political or national terms. The only thing many people seem to agree on is that they don't want government making that decision for them.

Yet, in the case of peoples with ancestry traceable to Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean - the U.S. government has Christened these disparate peoples Hispanics. What they do generally have in common is that they were at one time colonized by Spain. That's why some erroneously refer to them as Spanish.

Long-time California political activist Carlos Pelayo has said that lumping all of them into a Hispanic category is akin to lumping everyone that was ever colonized by the British under the category of Brittanics. Indeed, dividing people up by who they were formerly colonized by makes little sense. Such logic has also created the concept of Ibero-Americans - peoples formerly colonized by Spain and Portugal. Such thinking would put people like Guatemala's Rigoberta Menchu, Chile's Agusto Pinochet and the Kings of Spain and Portugal in the same cultural category as Cesar Chavez. This past Census, the government somewhat ameliorated the situation for someone like Menchu (Latin American Indian category), but not for someone like Chavez (with Tarahumara roots, but not recognized as native by the Census). Chavez would have still been in the same category as Pinochet.

One bigot recently questioned our indigeneity. He contemptuously wrote that perhaps if we go back [to Africa] we may find that we're all actually related to Adam and Eve.

Similar to mongrelization, the specter of relatedness is the worst possible nightmare for racial purists.

So? is it Hispanic or Latino? Respect self-identity, but if one is not sure, ask. But don't be surprised if that person changes his/her mind the following week (There's lots of anti-immigrant and lots of assimilation pressures in this society). The only constant is that regardless of the term chosen, they'll probably be denying (consciously or unconsciously) their indigenous or African roots.

There's seemingly no identifier that fits neatly into a box and perhaps that's the way it should be.

? Column of the Americas 2005

About Roberto Rodriguez:
The writer can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705.

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