Just don’t call us Hispanic

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Latinos are not invisible. The mainstream simply doesn’t know how to read us. And if someone can’t read, they are illiterate.

Far right Republicans are not only illiterate about Latinos they are blind to the fact that all they see are stereotypes when they imagine our community.

Progressives, by our very definition, want to profoundly understand people and cultures. As a proud member of the Texas Progressive Executive Council (TPEC) advisory board, I am happy to report for duty to help our fellow progressives read us more closely.

Of course, we can’t overcome years of neglect in just one essay, so let’s start with the essential: What do you call us? In the Mexican American Literature course that I teach, I narrow down this part of the discussion to only 25 possible identity labels – to keep it simple. Here are just a few: Mexican American, Tejano, Tejana, Chicano, Chicana, Latin, Latino, Latina, Latinx.

And Hispanic.

In all fairness, our own community has not decided which of these terms applies to all of us. In fact, we have not always been part of the decision making process either.

The Nixon administration branded us “Hispanics” when the term was used for the 1970 Census. We have had 50 years to live the pros and cons of that move. It is now clear that Nixon did not want to empower our community. You only need to consider similar tactics employed by the current Republican administration with the 2020 Census.

The 2020 Census will not include the identity terms “Chicana, Chicano, or Latinx.” Additionally, the Trump Administration is fighting to include the question: “Are you a citizen?” This makes it clear how two Republican presidents use identity labels to disenfranchise.

This legacy is why progressive organizations should not call us “Hispanics.”

I’ll bring this home with some concrete examples. 30% of Hispanics might be Republican according to polls quantifying support for Ted Cruz, McCain, or the Bushes. But I’d be stunned if more than 4% of Chicanos are Republican, but you won’t see that poll on mainstream news. Try to look up polls about Mexican Americans, Chicanas, or Latinx. Profound data on my community does not exist. You have to start from scratch.

Also, Ted Cruz might be Hispanic. Republicans stereotypically believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ted Cruz is definitely Hispanic, even though he was born in Canada.

To any Chicano, it is clear that the sense this makes is nonsense.

Folks who identify as Hispanics are older, English dominant, might not even speak Spanish, are computer literate, more conservative, probably still have landlines, and are easier to reach for polling.

Of course, if you are canvassing in a Houston neighborhood and you encounter an elderly Tejano who identifies as Hispanic, be polite and engage them. You have a 70% to 80% chance you can get their vote, but you are not ready to debate the nuances of the term — so don’t.

I use the term “Hispanic” when I’m citing data compiled using the word, which is often the case for Texas institutions and governmental agencies. On the other hand, when I hear a progressive refer to us as “Hispanics,” I know they are not working hard enough to progress.

This brings up the question of what we should be called. We should be called to the table.

We should be called to plan get-out-the-vote strategies. We should be called to knock on doors. We should be humanized first.

Just don’t call us “Hispanic.”

There is no quiz at the end of this essay, but there is a test in November 2020. Will you be ready, amigo?

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