Latino Like Me?

I know you’re all reading the Wikileaks documents right now (how about the way the Times buried the lead in their story? all the way down the list is this little tidbit: “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda…”), but there are some stories coming in from West of the Mississippi that make me wonder, Am I a Latino, after all?

Today’s big revelation comes from The Las Vegas Sun’s Delen Goldberg, who breaks the story that “Latino” leaders out west are considering forming a “Tequila Party” to address the fact that Latino support for the Democratic leaders doesn’t really pay off for us. I’m not going to argue with the fact that the Democratic Party and our Basketball Jones leader hasn’t done much for Latinos, especially if you consider immigration reform the number one Latino issue, which I’m personally ambivalent about. I’m also not going to disavow tequila, an acquired taste that is usually preferable (when doing shots) to good ol’ Caribbean rum. It’s just that when I read this article, as well as this op ed by the “Harvard Chicano,” Ruben Navarette, Jr., I get a strong feeling that the word “Latino” should be changed to “Mexican American.”

Navarette is particularly myopic in his understanding of the word Latino, which by most accounts refers to people who identify with a wide variety of Spanish-speaking cultures and ethnic identities. He talks about “Latino youth” pining away for a 21st century of “La Raza Unida Party.” He talks about “the “big four” of Latino leaders — José Angel Gutiérrez, Cesar Chávez, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, and Reies Tijerina. Don’t get me wrong, I love these guys. But this is entirely a Mexican-American discourse referring to Mexican-American politics. Last I looked, somewhere around 35% of Latinos are not Mexican-American.

Goldberg at least tries to put these “Latinos” in context by trying to place the formation of the La Raza Unida Party in the time period they shared with other Latino political movements, mentioning the Young Lords Party. But the YLP was not a party that ran candidates in elections, it was a revolutionary party that didn’t really think much of the conventional political process. Goldberg seems to be trying to be accurate with this quote from founding Raza Unida member Carlos Muñoz, Jr.: ““The party did not meet its goal of becoming a viable independent political institution, but it did contribute to the opening of doors for Mexican-Americans into the two-party political system.” But it seems like an afterthought, not really challenging the implied meaning of the word “Latino” by most of the sources quoted in the article.

That said, we have much to accomplish together, as Latinos. Immigration reform is a major human rights issue that should be resolved yesterday. It turns out that one of the biggest leaders of the immigration reform movement right now is Luis Gutiérrez, one of a handful of Puerto Ricans who are U.S. Representatives. But we need to remember who we’re talking about when we use the word “Latino.” And we have to remember that citizenship isn’t the only issue, and that generations upon generations of Latino U.S. citizens continue to lack access to education, health care, and the most influential positions in this very flawed country we’re living in. We need to fight for all of them, all of us.

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