GALLUP, New Mexico, April 13 - I continue to be bemused and consternated at the ongoing use of the term “Latino” to describe all non-White and African-Americans under a singular social label.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the ongoing reference to “Latinos” as it relates to the debate about immigration, the absence of economic opportunity, low educational achievement and even lower political participation. Just who are these so called “Latinos” and what gives them a context. I have never met a “Latino” in my life and I am almost at the end of my timeline.
From what I have observed, “Latino” is the catchall phrase, that someone imagined, probably a Washington bureaucrat, as the means to cover all people of some South American background with the same wet blanket. My sense is that it originated with the number crunchers at the United States Census Bureau in the early 1970s so that it could collate all Americans of some Central, South American or Spanish based cultural origins into a numeric matrix. Whatever the outcome, the term has no cultural, social, political, or economic currency no matter what WalMart does in creating aisles of “Latino Food Products” or some such nonsense. I fully expected to encounter Julius Cesar, Brutus or Cassius strolling down these aisles in their togas stocking their grocery carts. On one occasion I asked the manager of a WalMart in Brownsville if one had to read Latin to purchase Latino food products. He no idea of what I was referring to.
Besides the convenience of labeling all of us Brown folks; however, there are some gueros [light skinned] among us (my mom), the term has no relative value in that it dilutes the essence of what we are as Mexican Americans in Texas and the other four southwestern states. I recently read a Texas Monthly article about the filmmaker Roberto Rodriguez in which the writer blended and interspersed the terms Latino, Hispanic, Mexican American and Chicano throughout the piece. I almost came to believe that maybe Mr. Rodriguez was an amalgamation of different ethnicities.
Does anyone, with any common sense, believe that the immigration debate is directed at so-called “Latinos” or is its intent and purpose to chase and harass Mexicans and Mexican Americans? That type of response to immigration has become common practice in Arizona and at times in the other southwestern states. Nothing would please me more to see a significant number of Border Patrol agents flocking from South Texas to Miami or New York and New Jersey to chase Cubans [who have a special political dispensation] or Puerto Ricans [who are American Citizens]. Those are the commonly referenced Latinos that I have heard of.
Data from the Border Patrol’s Annual Report for 2011 show that there are 18,506 atrol agents assigned to the southwestern border sector [Brownsville, Texas to San Diego California], 2,237 to the Northern Eastern Sector, inclusive of the Canadian border and 232 to the Coastal Sector that includes Miami. The data shows that fully 86 percent of the Border Patrol workforce is assigned to keeping Mexicans out and Mexican-Americans at bay in the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. In my eleven years as a resident of Brownsville I never saw them chasing “Latinos” through my neighborhood where they patrolled on horseback, bicycles, SUVs and pickup trucks with cages. I resided 2.2 miles from the International Bridge to Matamoros, Mexico and within sight was the border wall.
Where are those “Latino” politicians on the issue; I am referring to Marco Rubio and Rafael Cruz, the darlings of the Tea Party and the Republican Party. Have they ever taken a walk along the Military Highway [US 281] that parallels the Rio Grande and the border fence and interacted with Mexican Americans or the non-Latinos? Senator Rubio has been designated the de facto expert on immigration by the Republicans. I would certainly like to meet them the next time they travel from Brownsville to San Diego along borderline between the United States and Mexico and give them a brief history lesson about us Mexicanos. Of course these Cubanos have been given the de-facto tag of immigration experts since we rarely hear or see the South Texas congressional or state legislative delegation fully engaged on the debate about this issue. These leaders would rather attend to agendas that originate north of the King Ranch and in Austin and which are handed down to them for their consent and compliance.
Every time that I traveled north of the King Ranch I became rather annoyed at having to stop at the border checkpoints.It was there that I had to answer the same recurring question: Are you an American citizen? When I said yes, I was waved on and allowed to pass from the Borderlands of South Texas into “America” at either Falfurrias or Sarita, Texas. I wish they had asked me if I was a “Latino” and then the debate would ensue with the bored and mostly underpaid Mexican American Border Patrol officers who have been retained to keep my primo Beto and maybe me out of America; out of our own country.
The media, politicians and other so-called leaders in Texas should cease any reference to us Tejano/Mexicano Americanos as “Latinos.” We are Mexicans; we are Mexican Americans and we have roots that are linked to Mexico and connected through the umbilical cord that is the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. We comprise 92 percent of the population of the Rio Grande Valley and over 40 percent of this state's. I do believe that these individuals are ashamed of their Mexican roots. One can be certain that they will come out to celebrate el Cinco de Mayo and el Diez y Seis de Septiembre, as their presence will reaffirm their Mexican roots.
I find the term “Latino” demeaning and corrosive to the essence of who we are as a people. It is bad enough when the whites from north of the Borderlands use it to refer to us when they bring forth our social status. When I departed South Texas in 2012, the University of Texas Pan American was considering the development of a Center for Mexican American Studies. Based on recent proclamations, from its leadership, maybe the establishment of a Center for Latino Studies might be more appropriate.
As for me, I am Mexicano and proud of it. A son and brother of Yaquis, Villa, Zapata, Gloria Anzaluda, Americo Paredes, Jovita Gonzalez, Marta Tienda, Francisco, Cesar and Corky. My bloodline is infused with that of warriors, revolutionaries, protestors, Chicanos, rioters and proud American soldiers who fought on foreign battlefields only to be denied their rights as citizens upon their return to the homeland. As hard as it is to fathom we, los Mexicanos, are related to every undocumented immigrant, every school dropout, every Colonia resident, every narco-tarficante, every gang member, every corrupt politician, and every Mexican American Border Patrol agent who cannot bear to look us straight in the eye as they ask us if we are Americans.
Someday, I may yet meet a Latino/Latina and I will be certain to ask him/her what anchors their cultural compass. Maybe I will do so in Spanish.
Baltazar Acevedo y Arispe, Jr., Ph.D., is a free agent consultant, community volunteer, researcher and writer. His research is directed at exploring quality of life issues that impact the Mexican American community, principally in Texas and the Southwest. He writes regularly for the Rio Grande Guardian.