New Latina Voices Series ~ Express Yourself…
Once upon a time when I lived in the land of New Jersey, I was engulfed in my Latino heritage. Or so I thought. Living in Washington, D.C., I am surrounded by people from all over Latin America. One interesting thing I have seen is many Latinos are constantly judging each other. I come by it quite often. More often than I should.
During the day I am the cultural events planner for a non-profit adult education center. I coordinate the three main cultural festivals – the Black History Celebration, Asian Pacific Spring Festival, and of course, Latino Heritage. Each year I become more of an “expert” in dealing with the various cultures. Although I am culturally aware and flexible, this doesn’t mean that everyone is – students as well as staff. During this year’s Latino heritage celebration planning events the usual comments flew at me, “You are Americanized… You’re gringa… Puerto Ricans are sell outs… You speak Puerto Rican Spanish.” I can go on and on, but I have grown accustomed to the deliberate mocking. I am not bothered by them. I know who I am. The nuisance is in the fact that these comments are voiced by other Latinos.
Even if there are hundreds of ethnicities in the world, as a whole (Black, White, Asian, etc.) they tend to have strong similarities. One thing’s for sure – Latinos are explicitly proud of their cultural heritages. They cling onto their cultural traditions and bequeath them onto their children. Conversely, on the surface, many are proud of the country from which they hail.
Presently, I live next to the most diverse neighborhood in Washington, D.C. – Columbia Heights. A short time ago I served as a panelist on teen racial issues for our youth community center. My group consisted of Latina teens who were born and raised here in the U.S. I verbalized how fortunate they are being raised in the most diverse neighborhood in our city. They quickly disagreed and pointed out that they stick to their own kind. Somehow when they were around Latinos from other countries, they needed to cluster to their own ethnic group. Dominicanos grip tightly to one another, Colombianos to their own, Salvadoreños to theirs and so on. Why is this?
Being the largest minority group in the country, one would think we’d be more of a cohesive group. Latinos unídos, sí? But from what I see day after day – we are not. The Salvatruchos believe they have the best pupusas. Dominicans claim bachata is better than Puerto Rican salsa and Honduran punta. Colombians swear they speak the best version of Spanish. This is what I encounter daily.
Working with Latinos from a variety of backgrounds, I have changed my mentality from thinking “Puerto Ricans are the best” to”all Latino socities have incredible things to offer.” As a whole, we are undeniably some of the most hardworking people throughout the world. The Spanish language is one of the cultural elements that ties us together (no matter how much we sometimes don’t want to admit it), and we are a beautiful race.
To make this less of my own opinion I asked other Latinos their thoughts on Latino segregation. Everyone had a lot to say and told me the reasons why they were prejudiced of certain Latino groups. Some of these reasons were because their country spoke better Spanish, because they were more European, because they couldn’t associate with those type of people, because they didn’t treat their homes with such distaste, because they aren’t real Latinos. Honestly some of the reasons were ridiculous! These came out of the mouths of some who are American, some naturalized, some recent immigrants – all different ages and statuses.
For me, the U.S. probably could have more politicians, CEOs, even American Idol winners who are Latino – but there aren’t. We don’t team up and voice the pride in our Latino heritage as a whole often enough. Just imagine if we did. Si se puede, no?
Claro, we may not possess the hundreds of years under our belt in combining our cultures as the African-Americans and whites in this country do. But this should not be an excuse to find the crowd in which we feel most comfortable. Our combined Latino heritage should be influencing us to see the opportunity of learning from each other and unifying ourselves. Not segregating.