A Hispanic Identity Crisis?

Back • April 5, 2012 • Uncategorized

I often tell people that I was born Cuban and became Hispanic in 1980.  This is an inside joke for Hispanics/Latinos.  Remember Freddie Prinze Sr. from the 1970s sitcom Chico and the Man?  Unfortunately, he died in 1977 at the young age of 22.  Freddie was born Puerto Rican and remained that way his entire short life.  Freddie never had the chance to become Hispanic in 1980. 

There were no Hispanics before 1980.  The term is a fabrication enacted by the U.S. Congress that was first used in the 1980 decennial census to identify people with a Spanish-speaking ancestry.  Now consider that most U.S.-born Hispanics speak English better than they speak Spanish, according to a new study from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Pew also reports that most Cubans, Puerto Rican, Mexicans, Guatemalans, and all the rest of those supposed Hispanics view themselves as something other than Hispanic.  They do not view themselves as Latino either.  They are nonconformist non-Hispanic-Hispanics who are not too keen on the label imposed on them by Congress.

According to the Pew study, an immigrant Colombian is more likely to think of himself or herself as Colombian – not Hispanic.  Their children will think of themselves as part Colombian and part American.  The immigrant’s grandchildren will view themselves as mostly American.  Part of the reason is that 26 percent of Hispanics will marry a non-Hispanic.  I am one of the 26 percent.  Interestingly, over 80 percent of Hispanic parents do not mind if their children marry a non‑Hispanic.  They just want them to get married (my opinion, not Pew’s).  This is very Hispanic (my opinion again).

The Pew report, When Labels Don't Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity, states that the majority of Hispanics believe they do not have a common culture.  This means that Ecuadorians view themselves as culturally distinct from Hondurans, who view themselves as different from Argentinians, and so on.  Ironically, only whites, Blacks, Asians, and others seem to believe Hispanics are a homogenous group. 

I often tell audiences that there will not be any Hispanics in 2030.  Most Hispanics get it, others not so much.  Given the high rate of Hispanics marrying non-Hispanics and the increasing Americanization of each subsequent generation, it is not a stretch to see the not too distant future where being of Hispanic ancestry is no different from having Italian, Irish, German, or Polish origins.  It will be nice to talk about your family’s Hispanic history, but it may become irrelevant in our day-to-day lives.