Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Context and Nuance, Part 5

I worked for 15 years at a community based organization in Boston that was founded as a public health agency targeting the Latino population. We eventually had offices in Boston, Lowell and Brockton, and began to offer behavioral health and clinical case management as well as community health promotion programs. I was one of the few Anglos who worked there, but I don't know that I was exactly more of a minority than everybody else. My co-workers were of Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Venezuelan, Argentinian, and eventually also Haitian and Brazilian ethnicity as we expanded the communities we served. We didn't discriminate of course, we had non-Latino clients, but the mission was to offer culturally and linguistically competent services for people who couldn't find them elsewhere.

I tell you all this to make a couple of points. The first is that ethnic and racial categories are constructed by the dominant culture. "Latino" or "Hispanic" is a label that immigrants get when they come to the United States. People from the predominantly Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas do have some commonalities, particularly a history of Spanish colonialism. The commonality of the Spanish language means that there are some news media outlets and even popular TV programs that are available throughout Latin America, as well as movies; but there are also much more localized media. So there is some sense of shared identity, but also of distinctiveness.

Latin American countries are multi-ethnic, in often bewildering patterns. Let's consider Mexico. Most Mexican people have mixed European and indigenous American ancestry. They are called mestizo, which means mixed, although Google translate rather disturbingly returns "half blood," and gives as synonyms "mongrel" and "crossbreed." It doesn't have such a pejorative connotation. Mexico doesn't have a strict caste system, or at least doesn't admit to it, but people of predominantly European ancestry do tend to be of higher social status. 

In any event the Spanish didn't import African slaves to Mexico, they used the indigenous people as a semi-enslaved workforce. Although the indigenous population was decimated by disease, it was not nearly exterminated as in the U.S., so indigenous heritage remains much more influential in the culture. This includes the predominant religion, which is Catholic (the Europeans' God was obviously badder than Quetzalcoatl) but is really syncretic and retains distinctive elements. And in parts of the country, particularly the south, indigenous people remain unassimilated; many people in those regions do not speak Spanish. Some of the people who come to the U.S. to work in the fields in California in fact speak little Spanish.

Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans have African heritage; the indigenous people of those islands were nearly exterminated and little of their influence remains. Argentinians actually have a lot of Italian and other European heritage from immigration after independence from Spain. I could go on but you get the idea. These folks come to the U.S. and all of a sudden they're an undifferentiated mass of "Hispanics."

The second point I want to make is that being a non-Latino in the midst of a Latin American mixing bowl was not somehow an unpleasant or oppressive experience. It was wonderful. It was fun and adventurous and enlightening. I learned Spanish, I learned about people's history and culture, I learned how to adapt (what time does a 2:00 meeting actually start?) and I felt welcomed and embraced.

So, Proud Boys, what the fuck is your problem if people of direct and exclusive European descent are no longer in the majority in the U.S.? You aren't being "replaced," you're still here. Nobody's making you go anywhere. You just live in a more interesting, more diverse and more dynamic country. You can even learn some Spanish if you want to and it will open up new adventures for you. Why does this disturb people? I honestly don't get it.

1 comment:

Don Quixote said...

Not sure what the "Proud Boys" are proud of.

As we've discussed before, diversity in physically and spiritually healthy, it is stimulating, it is LIFE. There's something to be proud of. Not possessing an adaptive skin mutation. That's just a fact.