By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, August 19 2022—
The Hispanic community in the United States has had a complicated presence for decades and has been subjected, in recent years, to increasing waves of mean-spirited attacks and ill-informed comments. This socio-political phenomenon has been ignited, settled and spread by far-right political narratives that are rooted in a fear sentiment — prevalent in the minds of a substantial fraction of American society — and intensified by politicians of the likes of Donald Trump.
The portrayal of Latin American Hispanic populations made by politicians has constantly been tied to economic and security factors and reinforcing proposals such as the one of building a border wall with Mexico — which has existed for years. Furthermore, the former rests on the notion that immigrants are taking the jobs of average Americans, while the latter is entrenched in the perception that Hispanics are driving up crime across the United States. Nevertheless, none of these characterizations about Hispanics are true as demonstrated by facts and data.
According to a report by the U.S Department of Justice in 2018, the share of crimes committed across the United States by Hispanics — mainly of Latin American origin — stands at 17.1 per cent of the total crimes committed. Demonstrating that the vast majority of crimes are committed by other social groups, while also noting that no overrepresentation exists, as the share of Hispanics constitutes 18.3 per cent of the total the U.S population.
Conversely, the vast majority of U.S. citizens hold the notion that immigrants, mainly Hispanics, do the labour work that Americans of every ethno-racial background do not want to perform — as 77 per cent indicated so in a 2020 analysis. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Labor also found that as of 2021 the concentration of immigrants holding occupations in cleaning and maintenance as well as in jobs across the construction sector constitute roughly 37.9 and 35.7 per cent — respectively — of the overall workforce. However, the farming and fishing industries have the highest share of Hispanics of any sector in the U.S. standing at 43 per cent of the total people employed.
Furthermore, one aspect of great importance is to understand the meaning behind the two major concepts that englobe our communities — Latin American and Hispanic — in order to have a comprehensive insight of the socio-political dynamics behind them. The first term refers solely to the geographical region in the Americas that was influenced by Spain’s culture and language during the colonial era. The term represents an area that runs from desert cities in northern Mexico all the way to Patagonia in the southernmost points of Chile and Argentina.
On the other hand, the term Hispanic exclusively alludes to language — someone’s whose native tongue is Spanish. This is regardless of whether they were born in Spain or in a Latin American country such as Costa Rica or Bolivia, or in Equatorial Guinea — which is the only Hispanic nation in Africa. By those characteristics, a Mexican like me is considered as being both Hispanic and Latino whereas someone from Spain and Brazil are only considered, respectively, as exclusively Hispanic and Latin American.
The terms are often used interchangeably in the U.S. furthering the pseudo-realities that have hovered over our cultures and clouding our historical roots. However, it is important to emphasize that part of this conduct is based on the large presence of a Mexican diaspora in the States. As roughly 36.6 million Mexicans live in the U.S. as of 2017 — around 62 per cent of the entire Hispanic community, further demonstrating that Mexican culture and Mexicans are the predominant Hispanic group in America. This places a significant weight on the aforementioned social and political debate, resulting in the inaccurate categorization of individuals with multiple ethno-racial backgrounds and characteristics into one-single homogenous group.
Our rich and diverse cultures tend to be reduced to Americanized Hispanic dishes, particular social conducts or racial phenotypes. It is an erroneous way of thinking and it is quite unfortunate when public figures, mainly politicians, double-down on those stereotypes. That is why there has been recent backlash surrounding the First Lady of the United States — Dr. Jill Biden — who uttered comments that simplified the Hispanic community to such distorted notions.
“The diversity of this community, [is] as distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the blossoms of Miami and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio,” Biden expressed before UnidosUS, a civil rights organization for the Hispanic community in the city of San Antonio in Texas.
After the incident, some people on social media have called for the First Lady to be cancelled because of her comments. However, from a personal standpoint, I believe that cancel culture is a trivial way of thinking that minimizes the possibility of growth and that puts aside the importance of getting informed — as a way of changing and influencing a person’s mindset as well as to reverse negative narratives.
Albeit it is important to highlight that it is not up to the people that were offended to educate, but it is to hold their offenders accountable for their actions along with pertinent authorities to strive towards justice. On the other hand, it’s the latter party that needs to work on educating themselves and aim towards redeeming themselves — which is something that is not achieved with cancel culture.
As we tend to forget that offensive claims, comments or actions are rooted in baseless beliefs, inaccurate historical narratives and are conveniently pushed by the dominant side to maintain the status quo. The problem needs to be addressed from its root and not in a superficial way. Undoubtedly, the comments made by Biden were insensitive and inaccurate, but I do not think that they were mean spirited. Nevertheless, they highlight the shadow that hovers over Hispanic cultures across the U.S. and stresses the importance of showcasing our culture — now more than ever before — and stripping it off stereotypes. Certainly, she can be an influential and instrumental agent in raising awareness on the issues that affect our communities and give a platform that highlights the voices of all Hispanics — whether they were born in America or not.
In addition, Americans need to understand that Mexicans in particular have always been tied to the U.S. They seem to forget that the lands of present-day Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada as well as parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming were part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s. Many Mexicans, myself included, think very deeply that those territories were arbitrarily stolen from us and not ceded through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
However, history and fate have had a very peculiar way of sorting things out. The 11th U.S. President James K. Polk would have never imagined that more than 170-years since his military incursion into Mexican territory the U.S. would now be home to more than 60 million Hispanics of various origins. For that I think that the southwestern region of the United States was, is, and forever will be Mexican at its core — as our roots are embedded deep into the soil, cementing our history and culture for generations to come.
As a Mexican living in Canada, I acknowledge the privilege of living in a country that is more progressive and less politically and socially divisive than its southern neighbour — especially when it comes to welcoming immigrants. However, I still feel the urge to represent my culture in the best possible way to tear down the misconceptions surrounding it wherever I am. Given that I feel a sense of pride when I share historical events, stories and facts with others.
It is also important that all of us help to influence the socio-political discourse and inform people of the greatness behind Hispanic cultures. I hope that all my fellow Latin American’s and Hispanics living in the U.S. and across the world feel proud of their heritage and roots and find a way to express their identity with pride without any hesitation. Let it be known that it does not matter where you live, where you are from or whether you were born in Latin America or not — we are all bounded by the same motherland which will always be our home.
This article is a part of our Voices section.