Thoughts on Being Latino

September is the "mes patrio" here in Mexico, and between that and Isaac getting his Mexican passport, it's got me thinking about what it means to be Mexican, and by extension, Latino.  Isaac was born here and is therefore Mexican.  Does that mean that he's Latino, even though his parents are not?  Who are Latinos anyway?

Mexico, like the U.S., has birthright citizenship, which means that any person born on Mexican soil, regardless of his parents' race, nationality, or legal status, is a Mexican citizen.  Hence Isaac has Mexican nationality by birthright, as well as his US nationality that he inherited from Adam and me.  Nationality is fairly easy to define, since each country sets clear rules about who can be a citizen and who can't, and issues documents such as passports and voter cards which identify their citizens.  But does nationality define who is Latino?

As you may have noticed from your 2010 Census form, Latino/Hispanic is not considered a race, but an ethnicity. There are white Latinos (model Jessica Perez), black Latinos (singer Celia Cruz), and every shade of brown in-between.  There are Latinos who don't have Spanish last names (former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson) and people with Spanish last names who are not Latino (my sister Beth Farias).

When I was growing up in central Illinois, Hispanics were brown people with Spanish last names who spoke Spanish.  When I moved to south Florida at age 22 and first encountered a black person speaking Spanish, I was kind of blown away.  My whole image of who is Hispanic needed an adjustment.  Since then I've met blond-haired, blue-eyed Latinos, Orthodox Jewish Latinos, and Latinos who don't speak Spanish.

I checked my Webster's dictionary under "latino," and it gave the following definitions:

  1. A native or inhabitant of Latin America.
  2. A person of Latin American origin living in the United States.

Under the first definition, Adam and I qualify as Latinos.  We are inhabitants of Latin America.  But neither he nor I self-identify as Latinos.  

I moved on to Wikipedia: "Latino is a term used chiefly in the United States to refer to people of Latin American extraction or descent."  I strongly disagree with the "chiefly in the United States" part; "latino" is a very common term used throughout Latin America.  The article also mentions that "The U.S. Government has defined Hispanic or Latino persons as being persons who trace their origin [to] . . . Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures."  So, Mexico is not considered Hispanic or Latino?  Either that or Mexico is part of Central America, not North America as I was taught.  Wikipedia goes on: "The United States Census uses the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spanish speaking Central and South America countries, and other Spanish cultures."  Under this definition Isaac is Latino.

So what about Brazilians, are they Latino?  They are from South America but don't speak Spanish.  What about Spaniards?  They speak Spanish but are not from Latin America.  What about the indigenous people in the region, for example the more than one million full-blood Mayans in the Yucatan?  They neither speak Spanish as a first language nor have Spanish last names nor any Spanish blood, but live in Mexico.  And what about Isaac, who was born in Mexico from foreign parents?

Latinos are an ethnic group, which again according to Wikipedia is "is a group of people whose members identify with each other through a common heritage, consisting of a common culture, including a shared language or dialect."  According to this definition Brazilians are not Latinos.  I would argue also that Argentineans and Mexicans do not share a common culture, or a shared dialect.  Argentineans don't eat tacos and Mexicans don't say "vos" (or wear sweaters tied over their shoulders - sorry, couldn't resist).   The only thing they share is a history of Spanish colonialism.

It seems that being Latino is a purely self-identified term.  I started thinking about Isaac and if he would self-identify as Latino.  If he lives his whole life here in Mexico, he will probably identify himself as Latino.  If we move elsewhere tomorrow, he probably won't.  Will non-Latinos see him as Latino, even if he identifies himself as such?  With his white skin, blue eyes and English last name, it might be a hard sell.  But what if we had named him Jose Guadalupe Paxton, even though he's the exact same boy?  Would it be more believable then that he's Latino?  It all seems very subjective.  It seems that a person is Latino if they believe they are.

I asked Lucy if she considered herself Latina - she is half Mexican, half Slovak and grew up in the US.  I don't remember her exact words, but it was something alluding to the fact that her Latina temperment comes out when she's mad.  I asked Eric, who was born and raised in Mexico from a European father and has a French last name - he didn't hesitate before he said, "Of course, I'm Mexican."  

I asked Isaac's nanny if she considered him Latino and she said the same thing, "Of course, he's Mexican."  "So," I responded, "Can a person be Latino but their parents are not?"  She replied, "Yes."

I'm still not 100% clear on what it means to be Latino, but I guess I would say it's the culture.  Even though that culture spans many different countries, colors, dialects, cuisines, and sub-cultures, it's all the heritage of Spanish colonialism and the mixing of blood in the New World.  Even though Adam and I don't identify as Latino, we feel very fortunate to be embraced by this culture, especially the Mexican culture, and have our son be born here.  Whether Isaac will be "Latino," I guess only he can decide.

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