My husband grew up in California. He has a deep appreciation for Mexican food, lives for a good boxing match, and has an abiding reverence for family. He is protective of our children and me. My husband’s Spanish, while not fluent, is stronger than mine. He speaks to my grandmother in Spanish when I cannot.
My husband sounds like many Latino men, except that he is not Latino. He is a “generic” American mutt. His family tree has branches extending to Scotland, Ireland, England, and other Nordic areas of Europe. His mother was a MacDonald. He has freckles and hazel eyes. I, too, have European ancestors and freckles and according to the national census, we’re both white. What is it that makes me Latino, but not him?
Everything I have read explains that Latino is a culture, not a race. If you look at our community, we come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of us have thick curly hair; some of us have straight. Some of us are blonde, others brunette (and some of us will never tell). We are a rainbow of eye colors and skin tones. Many, if not most of us, have European ancestors. Is it our indigenous or African ancestors who make the difference?
Spaniards don’t necessarily have indigenous or African blood, so that can’t be the deciding factor, unless we are excluding Spaniards from the Latino community. If language is the deciding factor, why isn’t anyone who speaks Spanish categorized as Latino? What about those generations of us who weren’t taught Spanish because of shame and oppression they experienced in their lives? Is it possible to be disowned by your heritage?
So what is it that makes someone Latino? How do we define ourselves? Is it something you can convert to, like Judaism? Can you become Latino by virtue of assimilating the culture?
I have no answers, only curiosity. I am very interested to hear what other people think.
by Melissa Garcia Logan