More reject terms like Hispanic in favor of more specific self-identification
May 22, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.
Updated May 23, 2012 at 12:23 a.m.
After years of being stereotyped as an unwelcome, illegal immigrant and being treated like an outcast, Brownsville native Francisco Cordova decided to have his blood tested to determine his true ancestral roots.
When he received the results in 2000, they reconfirmed what he already knew.
He was Mexica, a group of people indigenous to Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, namely the Aztecs.
"I originate from this land, this continent," said 30-year-old Cordova, who prefers to be identified on both government documents and in social circles as Mexica. "It gave me more firepower to prove it to other people."
Cordova is one of a sizeable number of people who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries and choose to identify themselves by their family's country of origin.
According to a Pew Research Center report released in April that explored Latinos' attitudes about their identity, a majority, 51 percent of those surveyed, said they most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin, such as Mexican, Cuban, Dominican, or in Cordova's case, Mexica.
However, 24 percent prefer a pan-ethnic label, such as Hispanic or Latino, and 21 percent said they use the term "American" most often to describe their identity.
Hispanic and Latino were used interchangeably in the Pew report.
Meanwhile, 51 percent of survey respondents did not care to be labeled as either Hispanic or Latino, but when a preference was expressed, Hispanic was preferred over Latino by more than a two-to-one margin, 33 percent versus 14 percent.
These statistics come nearly four decades after the United States government mandated the use of the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" to categorize Americans with familial lineage to Spanish-speaking countries.
"Latinos are the white people of Latin America. Not Hispanic.
Hispanics are the people of Spain, Europeans.
We are an indigenous people.
We are not white.
Hispanic and Latino mean white.
Stop the cultural castration of our people."
This the message written on the shirt that Cordova, a proud Mexica, displayed during a recent interview.
"It's what we are," said Cordova, who moved to Victoria at the age of 10. "I've never been on Spanish soil. I wasn't born across the pond, like the English say."
"We're not from another country. We're indigenous to this land," he continued.
Mexicas, mestizos of both Spanish and Indian blood, is the true pronunciation for Mexicans, a word that derived from the Spaniards, said Cordova.
Cordova, whose birth certificate reads Mexican-American, said he marks the Mexican-American/Chicano option on the U.S. Census and many other documents because Mexica is not an option.
The fact that the label Mexica is not widely known, though, proves that a lot of people lack the knowledge of their own heritage.
"All they teach is their ways," Cordova said about American classrooms. "You forget your own."
Cordova, who said he was enrolled in English as a second language classes from first to sixth grade, said he has gone on to realize many of the words he previously thought were Spanish were actually Nahuatl.
He is planning to do his part to educate younger generations on their true heritage, though, starting with his 17-month-old daughter.
"Even now, I'm teaching her to speak Nahua," Cordova said.
Tabitha Seguin learned at an early age not to call everyone who spoke Spanish Mexican.
But the label described her heritage perfectly.
"It gives a more specific region of where I'm from," said the 18-year-old Mexican-American from Plano.
Seguin, who just finished her first year at University of Houston-Victoria, said her dad is a native of Mexico who moved to the U.S. around the age of 5, while her mother is a Plano native whose family has been in South Texas for as far back as anyone can remember.
Because her parents are divorced, Seguin said, she often feels torn between two cultures - Mexican and American.
When she would go to see her father and his relatives, she would be exposed to a more traditional Mexican culture compared to life with her mother and her maternal relatives who fully embraced American culture and did not speak Spanish.
"She always says, 'I'm not Mexican,'" Seguin said. "But I'm sure someone was from Mexico (on her maternal side)."
DaCosta resident Richard Gonzales said his mixed bloodline renders him a Mexican-American.
"Even if I go to Spain, if they know I have Mexican blood, they won't accept me," said Gonzales, 74, who claims a mixed Spanish and Indian bloodline.
He does acknowledge that his decision to identify as Mexican-American sometimes comes with negative stereotypes.
"In Texas, they made Mexicans seem no good and lazy," Gonzales said. "They think you are dark and eat hot peppers."
Seguin hopes to fight many of the negative stereotypes attached to her chosen identity by becoming successful.
"When you succeed at something, you can tag on I'm Mexican-American, too," said the future marketing executive. "It does something for people who are also of your ethnicity."
In Maria Elena Pulido's eyes, the label Mexican means someone who was born in Mexico, while Latino is reserved for people from South America.
Neither of these descriptions fits her.
That is why she chooses to identify as Hispanic.
"We're a boiling pot within ourselves," said Pulido, whose maternal grandfather is from Mexico and whose paternal grandmother is from Spain.
Somewhere along the way, Indian was introduced into the mix, too, she said.
Yoakum resident Beatrice Satberry expressed similar thoughts.
"I was born in America, but I have ties to other countries," said Satberry, 55. "Hispanic to me is an American that has root origins to other countries."
Identifying as Hispanic is relatively new for Satberry, who identified as Chicano during the '70s Chicano Movement.
"Back then, I never had any kind of reference to Hispanic," Satberry said. "It never came up."
Despite the relatively low percentage of people who choose to identify themselves by the pan-ethnic labels, Pulido remains steadfast in her choice.
"I'm proud of my culture. No one can take that away from me," said Pulido, 45. "I am who I am."
Toni Marek did not know what a quinceanera was until she moved to Victoria at the age of 18.
Marek, whose mother is Caucasian and estranged biological father is Hispanic, grew up in the predominately German and Czech populated city of Shiner.
Growing up, Marek, 33, did not speak Spanish or know much about anything related to Hispanic culture, and embraced more her mother's heritage of French, Italians and Irish.
It is for these reasons that Marek, despite her Hispanic heritage, chooses to simply identify as American or White/Other.
"I don't like any of the (Spanish-speaking) labels," said Marek, who now lives in Victoria. "They bother me."
"I believe labels encourage discrimination among people. When you can put people in groups, it fosters a discrimination mentality toward people," she said.
Although she chooses to identify as American, her appearance and maiden name, Gonzales, occasionally caused people to treat her differently from others.
"It was night and day when I would talk to people on the phone and the treatment I would get," said Marek about her reception once she took on her husband's last name. "Now, I'm living on the other side of the curtain."
Marek said the accommodations made for people based upon the ethnicity they identify with also feeds her reason to identify as just American.
"There's nothing wrong with embracing it. I just don't think it's right to use it as a way to advance," she said. "There's a difference between wanting to be labeled as Hispanic or Latina and wanting to know where our ancestors are from."
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
The labels Latino and Hispanic were created in 1977 by the U.S. government to monitor how well the integration process was going, said Suzanne Oboler, a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at John Jay College in New York City.
"They wanted to know things like how many Latinos are not able to buy a house in this neighborhood," Oboler said.
Although the labels began under a positive goal in mind, they have flaws, said the professor.
"To lump everyone together in terms of Hispanic and Latino doesn't really account for the diversity of the people," Oboler said. "It's like lumping together the British, Canadians and even the South Africans and Australians."
"Everyone speaks English, but they have different national histories and cultures," Oboler continued.
In her research, she found that in the 1980s, both the terms Latino and Hispanic often took on negative connotations.
While the middle class sought to unite under the labels to strengthen their fight for social justice, working class individuals wanted no parts of the labels, Oboler said.
"To (the working class), Hispanic meant noisy neighborhoods and loud music and I am not that," said Oboler about the working class' resistance to embrace the labels imposed upon them by the government.
Though times had changed since the 1970s in terms of integration and race relations, Oboler said incidents like Arizona's ban on Latino literature in school and the immigration battle all indicate they are still needed.
"As long as labels are tied to resources, then I think it's difficult to say, 'OK, let's forget the labels,'" Oboler said. "That says a lot about why we do need these labels today. If you don't teach people about the history of the U.S., people think every person came here yesterday."
Additionally, younger generations tend to embrace pan-ethnic terms more often than older generations, said Clara Rodriguez, professor of sociology at Fordham University in Bronx New York.
"Some people think this represents some kind of anti-assimilation stance," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't mean a rejection of U.S. culture.
"If an American goes to live in Paris and he has an American accent, would he say that he was a Parisian? Of course, not."