There are a handful of social phenomenons that I am more fascinated by than Latino cultural identity. Especially being an immigrant in the United States, I have experienced first hand how important it has become for me as an individual and how it impacts everything I do, including the way I parent my children. However, Latino cultural identity it’s often simplified and downplayed in America.
We all have seen the thick-accented, curvy Latina character portrait on many more shows than we care to remember and what they all have in common is the unilateral view of Hispanics in terms of the way we behave, the way we look and how foreign we seem to be within the frame of America. The reality is that Latino cultural identity is so much more than the mathematical addition of characteristics of a group of people.
As the famous philosopher Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. The Hispanic community is as diverse and multicultural as the United States itself, but often times this reality is overlooked and in the eyes of many our community is just one stereotype or the other.
There are several definitions of identity in the English dictionary and two of them define it as the state of having unique identifying characteristics held by no other person or thing and the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another. Those definitions can easily define Latino cultural identity as it relates to the Hispanic community in the United States but also to each Latino individually, and how each one of us identifies ourselves for whom we are within our particular context.
Here I give you some of the reasons why Latino cultural identity cannot be boxed or simplify, and how each of the elements that are a part of it make it so beautifully complex and rich:
- Millenary Heritage. Latinos come from millenary cultures, and after the discovery of America by the European settlers then became a mix of natives, Spaniards and African slaves so being multicultural is part of Latino identity.
- Origin Pride. No matter where we come from or where our parents came from, we all have a high regard for our Latin origin and that’s a part of our identity that highlights our different cultures and at the same time enriches our experiences of other cultures.
- American Latinos. The majority of the Hispanic population in the US was born here and their cultural identity is composed not only of their background and heritage but also of the American fabric and what it means to be born Latino in America.
- Multiracial Backgrounds. As one of the Pew Research’s videos on Multiracial in America mentions, “Identity is not just the sum of the races on someone’s family tree. It’s more complicated than that”. That statement couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to Latinos who are more and more marrying people not only from other Latin American backgrounds but also from other racial groups. In these cases, cultural identity is viewed as a rainbow of elements and characteristics. Multiracial Latinos, as other multiracial people, have the ability and desire to define their identity on the basis of each of the races they belong to, so cultural identity is way more complex in these cases.
As a lover of sociological phenomenon, and a member of this ever changing and always exciting culture, I define our cultural identity as follows: Latino cultural identity goes beyond family ties and background, beyond social exchanges and geographical location. It’s what makes us unique as individuals, is in the nuances that connect us to one another, the feeling of belonging to a melting pot of different colors, aromas and textures and the ability to distinguish our very own within the group and finding refuge, knowledge and passion in the cultural contributions of others.
What’s your definition of Latino cultural identity?
I am not sure I have a definition. I am from a Caribbean family. A good number of my mother’s side of the family was born in St. Thomas but then they slowly moved to San Juan before moving to NJ years later. For me, Latino culture is multifaceted including heritage, culture and identity. I never really thought about the complexities of it growing up because in addition to my family, the neighborhood, city and schools I went to included families from PR, DR, Central American, South America and more. It was everyday and what I new to be “normal”. It wasn’t until I went away to college that labels and more came into play.
Today, I go home to NJ to be surrounded by the mix of culture, heritage and identity that I do not find so prominent where I live in the South.
So to answer your question, I still don’t have a specific definition. But I will agree that Latino culture can’t be fit into one box.