In the days after the Democratic National Convention and the gregarious keynote delivered by Julián Castro, the clamor of whether his inept fluency should allow him the Latino title, I have to admit, made me angry. Here was a man — a brown man, a rising star, a politician that could change the face of our nation’s inner workings — and the Latino public didn’t want him because he isn’t bilingual? Ay!
The idea of being 100% Hispanic by blood, yet isolated by the Latino population because of fluency, is not foreign to me. I am full-blooded Cuban, a first generation American, but in my family’s quest of economic growth and the American dream, bilingualism was put on the backburner. It seems that the Hispanic populace is having a hard time understanding that and, therefore, is quick to reject those of us with brown skin, Latino heritage, and a lacking command of the Spanish language. So where do we go? Where does the bicultural Latino find community and likeness in this country? How does a brown American identify, when white America acknowledges our differences and Hispanics hear them, too?
The ensuing press after Julián Castro’s speech shook my core deeply and caused a feeling of hurt and rejection I had long forgotten. The question of whether one is “Latino enough” by virtue of their fluency also reminded me why I raise my (true) bicultural and biracial children with as much Spanish exposure as possible. It seems that everyone is trying to strip our Latino from us. If, as a mom, I am paranoid that the world will refuse to acknowledge the Latino in my children, the part of them that is me, you can imagine the anger which resonated in the knowledge that even I have to fight for that identity. But I’m not an impressionable college student anymore; only I have the power to self identify. With maturity and experience comes a solidified understanding of one’s personal identity, and if I want my children to do the same, I must be fierce in my assertion: I am not fluent and I AM Latina enough.
While yes, I wholeheartedly believe that bilingual is better, for so many reasons, isolating the bicultural Latino is not the answer. For me and much of our community here at SpanglishBaby, creating a nation of bilingual citizens is a movement that goes so much deeper than simply becoming fluent in Spanish – it’s about creating a generation of tolerant, progressive and smarter world citizens. Accepting a person’s fluency, while providing resources, community engagement and encouragement to create a higher level of fluency, is the only way to truly create change. And, to be sure, change is upon us.
As more young Hispanic Americans are living a bicultural life, the old way of defining the Latino identity is on the verge of extinction. Isolating and rejecting their potential input to our community and political agenda does nothing for our cause. So, as a brown American Latina with what I would define as a lack-luster level of fluency, what I would like to say to Julián Castro is – Pa’ lante, fellow Latino! I’m proud of you!
Vanessa, I generally agree with your article. I am raising my daughter bilingual and believe we should encourage more people to do the same. However, I take exception with one main contention of your article: does the term Latino (and Hispanic too) imply that people from multiple countries and cultures are united by a single language–Spanish? So if you don’t speak the language that unites the culture, it makes it harder to make a Latino claim. In “Bilingual is Better”, Roxana and Ana both make the point that they identify with their home countries. Roxana “feels” she is Peruvian and admits that neither Latino or Hispanic captures her true identity. These terms came about as uniting a people that speak a common language, and have other similarities too, but by definition, Latinos are connected through idiomatic ties. So a lack of fluency can, in some ways, diminish that.
Nonetheless, I love what SpanglishBaby and its contributors are all about and I hope you press forward. (Also, I love what Julian Castro is doing for Latinos in politics).
Fantastic point, Gabriel, and one I will be mindful of in my writings in the future. From a personal perspective, my use of the term Latino and/or Hispanic implies my experience as a brown, (semi) Spanish speaking person born and raised in the United States. Although I am Cuban by blood, I was raised in California and have a connection with Mexican cultures and dialects. I was not born in Cuba, and therefore I identify as Latino versus Cuban because that has been my experience. Certainly our society sees me as such. In my experience, mainstream hasn’t caught on to the many cultures, traditions and accents that make up the Latino experience in the United States. By the time I was 15 years old, I had stopped trying to explain that Cuba was an island 90 miles off our coast. I started to call myself American Latino, and that was that. My point in the piece is, mainly, that the American Latino experience is changing and includes people of all fluency levels. As a community, we should be prepared for that. However, your point is taken and appreciated. Gracias!
You made an excellent point and did so very eloquently! Isn’t it ironic that a stink is being made and questioning Castro’s Latinoism because he doesn’t speak Espanol when no one EVER, EVER, JAMAS questions an Italian or German American, for example, for not speaking Italian or German? Could you even imagine what Rudy Giuliani would have said if they told him he couldn’t call himself Italian because he couldn’t speak Italian? It is so ridiculous….it makes me laugh!
Gracias y te mando un abrazo fuerte!
Thank you, Elizabeth! I truly am saddened by others trying to define a person’s identity… and especially raising biracial kids, it hurts that our society is always trying to stick them in a box. I will say, though, that I hope our community continues to strive for fluency in Spanish. And not just for the connection to our heritage (or to be “Latino enough”), but because it is better for our world to raise kids with a global perspective. With a realistic and accepting outlook to the bicutural Latino experience, establishing a desire and efforts towards fluency (which is NO easy task!) can be accomplished. Gracias, amiga!
Elizabeth, great point! I have friends from Dublin, Ireland who came to live in the U.S. for a while. They HATED when Irish-Americans would say, “Hey, I’m Irish too!” My friends would respond with, “Well no, you’re American. I come from an island in the North Atlantic and am from Europe, you do not.” Always made me laugh.
The Latino label is a bit tough because it doesn’t designate a race or even a nationality. It’s a cultural label to link people from many different places. Maybe it’s similar to Judaism in that way. I know many people who are culturally “Jewish”, but they don’t speak Hebrew, don’t eat kosher, and don’t go to temple. And yet, many still count them as “Jewish”. So in that way, I think Vanessa has a good point about Latinos being linked even if they don’t speak Spanish–it’s like a non-praticing Jew who nonetheless knows a few Hebrew words and celebrates Hannukah.
And Vanessa, your story is familiar. I live in California and my last name is Garcia, but I have white skin and green eyes (my family is from Espana). Can’t tell you how many times someone has said, “But you don’t look Mexican!” Um…that’s because I’m not. Ay dios…que puede hacer?
Agree! Been at this battle for a while. I’m glad more and more are shedding light on this. In my world, Latinos bilingual and non are welcome alike. I will forever be ‘learning’ Spanish and finally at 35, I’m okay with that. I get to decide what my Latino identity is … Period. Great article!
I don’t know where the author is getting her information, but it was the media who made this an issue, specifically The Daily Caller, the Guardian, and FOX News. They could’t attack Castro on the issues, so they had to create a fake controversy over language, as if we would be dumb enough to take the bait and reject him over something so irrelevant. Americans of Latino descent do not care if Castro or any other elected official speaks Spanish. What is matters is their position on the issues, not speaking Spanish.
I think the author needs to work out her own issues and not put them all on her daughter. Just my opinion….
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