Don’t Call Me Hispanic; I’m Cuban!
Hispanicity for All?
‘Hispanic,' as discussed by G. Cristina Mora, becomes a loaded word. In the recent years, we’ve come to know ‘Hispanic’ as an umbrella term, one that conglomerates all south and central Americans into one slot, simultaneously giving them a set of common ways-of-being in the social world. In other words, Hispanics, in the eyes of those who are not, share an ambiguous, yet ‘familiar’ identity that makes them ethnically equal. The ubiquity of such term in the United States’ media, market, and political discourses, then, raises interesting questions, mainly, the one which asks about Latin@ identity within the Latin@ community. Are all ‘Hispanics,' i.e., a Cuban-born businessman in Miami, an undocumented Mexican farm worker in California, and a third-generation part-Puerto Rican in New York, all the same? There is certainly many linguistic commonalities, but is that enough?
Mora, a trained sociologist, tackles the term to argue that it is a historically constructed identity with an obvious political and consumerist agenda. To do this, Mora first spells out the historical developments that birthed Hispanicty; from its very beginnings in 1960’s through its stabilization in the 1980’s (establishment of the Hispanic category by the Census Bureau), Mora doesn't leave anything out. Then, via some great archival research, retellings of complex oral histories, and interviews, she reveals the complexities, and the why’s and how’s of its creation in the United States.
Making Hispanic is divided into four extensive chapters. Each of them corresponds to a particular organization and how it has helped shape and establish Hispanic panethnicity. Overwhelming at first, each chapter is to be understood in relation to the others, as that is the only way one can, together with the author, dismantle Hispanicity’s common perceptions.
Constructing and Reinforcing Panethnicity through Politics, Mass Media and Markets
What better way to deal with something so complex and varied than to minimize it to one small, ambiguous category? The demand for better data or broader classification is what, in fact, drove many of these institutions, more so the federal government, to want to ‘understand’ several ethnic groups as a larger conglomerate. Mora argues that in the 1960’s and early 1970’s the invisibility of the Latin@ community to federal government forced its officials to find a framework in which Latinos could be ‘better served.' Consequently, the three largest Latino ethnicities in the U.S. (Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Mexican) were packed into one single framework, which, Mora argues, highlighted ambiguity, and, therefore, minimized the political agenda of such Latin@ groups fighting for social justice during the civil rights movement. Ambiguous or not, this condensed framework institutionalized Hispanic panethnicity to enforce Latino mobility in this country. The early efforts to cram all three major Latino groups led to the foundation of the Council of La Raza (NCLR), which was formerly known as a Chicano advocacy organization (now a corporation); it became a powerful organization that served three major Latin@ ethnicities.
The quest for unifying the Latin@ community, of course, rose through the acknowledgment of the fact that each Latin@ ethnicity shares linguistic elements. To respond to the needs of the three largest Latin@ groups in the 1960’s and 70’s, the U.S Census Bureau implemented various categories that utilized regionality to measure the ‘Spanish-Speaking’ population. Ultimately, the Census Bureau implemented the ‘Hispanic origin’ question in 1980. Americans were now being asked whether or not they were “Hispanic” separately from whether they were white, black, Asian, or Indian. This transgression served as a potent illustration of the negotiations between organizations like NCLR and the government, as the Latin@s searched for a greater support when it came to education, funding, etc.
Similarly, mass media also underwent a significant shift in the way Latin@ were represented and sold to. Media giants, like Univision and Telemundo, were, too, interested in catering and selling to a simplified audience, and, therefore, established a somewhat malleable Hispanic aesthetic within their network (it is safe to say that programming was, and still is, ethnic-centric). With the help of newly acquired data from 1980 Census, media stations got to work and developed a new, ‘more informed’ Hispanic sound, look and vocabulary.
A Missing Link
Although thorough, Mora’s exploration of the socially constructed ‘Hispanic’ is no more than just that, a history and analysis of Hispanic panethnicity. Her project might've benefited from cross-group comparisons, as that would've amounted to bigger findings. For instance, comparing the developments of Hispanic panethnicity to that of Asian Americans’ identity could've been a useful and exciting task. Comparisons like this would inform the public, and other scholars alike, about the developments and outcomes of group formation, processes beyond Hispanic identity construction.