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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Identity Crisis

Steve and Vanessa Lopez

We had breakfast with George Saturday, and he asked us what is the difference between the words Hispanic and Latino, and whether one is more appropriate. We responded that they seemed to be used interchangeably, and we are comfortable with either term. Well George's question got me thinking about some of the common terms used, so I decided to do some research. We are not experts on Latin America, so bear in mind we are sharing information from and other sources.

Latin America refers to the part of the American continents south of the United States in which Spanish, Portuguese, or French is officially spoken. Latino exclusively refers to people or communities of Latin American origin. Hispanic on the other hand encompasses all Spanish speaking peoples in both hemispheres and emphasizes the common denominator of language among communities that sometimes have little else in common. Based on these two definitions, people from Spain would be Hispanic, but would not be Latino.

Now if you were to ask my Nicaraguan grandparents, Rosa and Tele, which do you prefer Latino or Hispanic, they would probably respond "I'm Nicaraguan". I remember growing up it used to drive my Grandma crazy when people would ask her if she was from Mexicó or Puerto Rico. "Clearly" she was Nicaraguan, so why would someone ask such a stupid question.

To my grandparents the countries of Latin America are as diverse as the U.S. and the countries of Europe are to us. In fact, during our last trip we were visiting a coffee farm, and there were also several tourists from the U.S. and Europe. My cousin, Daniel, was really surprised that we knew right away which tourists were from the States, which ones were from Germany, and which ones were from France. Now Daniel can tell right away if someone is from El Salvador, Honduras, or Costa Rica; so to us we were quite surprised that he thought the North Americans and Europeans sou nded and dressed the same, and looked very similar

Lately there has been a lot of confusion about the word La Raza. For us it refers to pride in who we are, and has nothing to do with racial superiority. Keep in mind that during the colonial period the Spanish implemented a caste system that generally segregated the populous into six tiers based on race and continental origin. Adherence to this hierarchy was rigidly enforced, and since it was based on race, it was impossible to move from one birth caste into a higher caste. The Spaniards used this elaborate caste system to maintain the power of the Peninsulares (Europ ean born whites) and Criollos (colonial born whites) who were at the top of the hierarchy.

Most Latin Americans, and those of us of Latin American decent are a mixture of Indigenous, African, and European blood. Since 1492 the Indigenous people of the Americas have been told that they are racially inferior, and Africans were told this even further back. In the past those of us of mixed blood were considered tainted, and encouraged to hide our Indigenous and/or African ancestry. In English the word race is a way of categorizing people. But in Spanish, it not only means race. It is is about our shared blood. It represents pride in our heritage and culture. Thinking about it, La Raza could indirectly mean equality.

Growing up my Grandma Rosa told me that we don't have any Indian in us. Even when I brought up that this seemed like a statistical improbability, since at most 9% of Nicaragua's population is Spanish. I guess it was one afternoon when my Grandpa Tele and I were admiring some pottery at the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua that I started to begin to understand the meaning of La Raza. Grandpa said something to the effect that "the people who made these beautiful pieces of pottery were Indians. We share their blood, and it is your Indian blood that gives you your strength. We are La Raza.

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