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How to count Latinos

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Fox News Latino attempts to count the number of Latinos serving in Congress:

“There is no disputing this number in the Senate, which has three Latino senators. The House, however, is a whole other matter.

The House Press Gallery, an administrative office of Congress that helps media and House officials get the data and background they need, counts 33 Latino representatives in the 113th Congress, not including delegates. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit affiliated with the caucus, puts the number at 31. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials tallies 28.

These conflicting numbers on Capitol Hill illustrate the difficulty overall in defining what it means to be Latino.

NALEO defines Latino or Hispanic as someone who can trace their ancestry to a Spanish-speaking country and identifies with that culture ….

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute has no formal guidelines for compiling its list; it simply counts members who self-identify as Latino, including Portuguese, spokesman Scott Gunderson said.

The House Press Gallery, which keeps demographic data on House members, identifies as Latinos anyone whose linguistic origins come from Spain or Portugal. Press Gallery staff declined to discuss details about their list.”

For me, the most confounding aspect of the article is that many organizations, including Latino ones, define Latino as anything of Spanish or Portuguese origin.

A lot of Latinos agree with this definition; they tend to be the same ones who label themselves Hispanic. I, on the other hand, neither consider myself Hispanic or being of Iberian origin — no more than America can be said to be of British origin.

Just as America was a former British colony but is now something completely different, so too were the nations of Latin America once colonies of Spain and Portugal, but they’re now singular and separate from anything European.

The Iberians weren’t Latino before the 16th century. Latino-ness didn’t exist before Columbus and Cabral set sail for the New World. Latinos were born in the Americas, specifically Latin America.

As I wrote back in April 2012:

Latino applies to a descendant of Latin America living in the United States. But the very nature of Latin America itself complicates the term, because Latin America is not just a place – a continent, an isthmus and a smattering of islands. Latin America is a melting pot; actually, it’s the melting pot. …

Being Latino is the product of past stirrings. Latino is a byword for multicultural; in reality, the two are nearly interchangeable. There is no Latino race, no Latino ethnicity. Latino represents the beginning of the end to all that. It describes a human smoothie blended in Latin America and poured into American society. The brown-skinned chilango in East Los Angeles, the dark-skinned Port-au-Princien in Little Haiti, the pale-skinned carioca in East Newark – each one of them is 100 por ciento/pour cento/por cento Latino.”

I expect a lot of jawing about how I’m some radical leftist Hispanic who calls himself Latino and only denies his Spanish roots because of an anti-imperialist streak — all true, by the way, except for the “radical” part.

But history shows that it was something that happened in Latin America — not Europe or anywhere else — that gave rise to Latinos.

We’re not Latinos because we speak a language — or are expected to speak a language — derived from Latin. We’re Latinos because of our Latin American heritage.

Latinos may speak Spanish or Portuguese, but we’re far from it.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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