The Concept Of Being 'Latino', And Why I'm Not Here For It

Not everyone from Latin America identifies as Latino.

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Both of my parents were born and raised in Latin America.

My mother from Puerto Rico. My father is from Brazil.

By most accounts, this would make us your run-of-the-mill Latino family. Except neither me, my parents, nor most people in my family identify as 'Latino'.

I get it. The textbook definition of Latino is "a person who was born or lives in South America, Central America, or Mexico or a person in the U.S. whose family is originally from South America, Central America, or Mexico".

Hint: ALL of the people above are from Latin America, and are technically Latin@*.

I think we can all agree that most people - especially people who do not/have never lived in Latin America - generally assume that people from Latin America look a certain way. This notion is of course utterly false and ridiculous, but it is what it is. Regardless of what the textbook definition of Latino is, the most commonplace idea of what a Latino is proves to be largely exclusive to people who look ambiguously Italian.

It's also clear that this exclusion generally works one way most of the time. If someone who looks/is white claims to be Latin@*, they're generally believed or accepted. This isn't to say that white-passing Latin@s don't ever get the questions of disbelief or feel left out, but Latin American media? Loads of white-passing Latin@s.

Racially, I'm a Black Asian - or Blasian - and I identify as such. My mother is a Black Puerto Rican; my father is Japanese-Brazilian. My parents, who are tried and true Latin@s in every definition of the word, are a mixture of all of the pictures of people who don't look like what everyone thinks Latin@s should look like. Neither do I. Nor do most people on either side of my family.

I'm actually 100% okay with and thankful for this. My family's history and stories are unique, their cultures as equally intertwined and as important to the Latin American narrative as any other. But I'm not here to claim a label that was created by the United States government and essentially serves to place European descent at the base of any identity, regardless of whether that identity is actually of any European descent or not.

Latino is not a race. Sorry to break your little American, yo-quiero-taco-bell-hey-look-I-can-speak-Spanish-too hearts. It is an imaginary, Federal designation, given to one of the most diverse groups of people on the planet by United States government in 1997. There is no cultural significance to this word. It's also super language-centric. Latin America includes countries that speak French, Portuguese, and hundreds of Indigenous languages, yet the term is really only used in reference to Spanish speakers. In fact, many Latin American countries (even some that are predominantly Spanish-speaking) have no basis for this word, and do not use it as an identifier over their own national identity. For example, someone from Uruguay may identify as Uruguayo before they identify as either Hispanic or Latino. Also, the only original difference between the terms 'Hispanic' and 'Latino' was regional. Although people today tend to use the term 'Hispanic' to include people of some sort of Iberian descent outside of Latin America (such as people from Spain), this is incorrect in its original designation. Hispanic is a term that was simply more popular in the eastern United States; Latino was more popular in the west. Feel free to look here for more information. Both still provide a basis of Euro-centrism to a person's identity. What if you're not of any distinguishable European descent? Even if you are (which I am - my great grandfather was from Portugal and is the person from whom I got my first name), what if you don't want that to be the focal point of your identity?

I spent the first 13 years of my life in Latin America. Most of my family is there, and I go back whenever I can (which hasn't been much these days with work and school). My family eats plantains, piranha, and everything covered in homemade wasabi and soju. I have curly hair and dark skin. My family speaks a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. For new years, we make New Years soup (Ozoni). My favorite food is tako. I spent my summers split between swimming in a [slightly dangerous] lake near my grandmother's home in Belo Horizonte and at Japanese space camp (read: the best place ever).

Both of my parents come from beautiful people, with rich, complex histories that are integral to what makes Latin America what it is today. I can't imagine opting to identify in a manner that completely erases all of that in an effort to align myself with some impossible to fit notion - which is largely based on whiteness and colonialism.

Please note that I am not attempting to police anyone's identity, or tell anyone that they shouldn't identify a certain way. To the contrary, I think people should be able to identify as they choose. However, your Latino narrative isn't mine. Sorry not sorry.

* Latin@ is a gender-neutral term for Latino.

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