Archive for June 21st, 2008


“Dude, I Hate to Tell You This, but You’re Hispanic”

So I was standing in line at a theme park, waiting to jump on a monsterously huge rollercoaster, when I noticed a swaggering young hombre in front of me. He was hanging with his girlfriend, a cute little Latina. The guy was obviously Chicano, and if anyone doubted the joven’s ethnicity, it was right there, spelled out on his t-shirt.

The words on the back of his shirt read

“Hispanic: No!

Latino: No!

Chicano: Yes!”

The wording was all-caps, for damn sakes, to minimize the danger of subtlety escaping. The front of the shirt featured the standard eagles and snakes and La Virgin imagery.

I lost sight of the guy by the time I got on the rollercoaster, and I forgot all about him for the two minutes of whiplash speed that I received in exchange for my hour in line (this was very poor ROI).

But I thought about him later, and I realized that the shirt pissed me off. This hombre was adamant, a walking billboard, in fact, for the idea that Chicanos are completely different from the rest of the Hispanic world. I had run into this mindset before, but not so explicitly. The implication, of course, is that they are better or superior to, say, Nicaraguans or Cubans or Peruvians.

I could understand if someone asked the guy if he was Bolivian or Colombian. In that case, maybe he would just want to be clear and/or take pride in his ethnicity. But instead he was performing a pre-emptive strike on anyone who would think, for a split second, that he could be part of the larger Hispanic or Latino tribe. He didn’t want to be included with me or anyone who didn’t have roots in Mexico.

What is the point of this demand for separation? Is it like the paper-thin differences emphasized by, for example, the British and the Welsh? And if so, will there be any involvement from women as hot as Catherine Zeta-Jones (she’s Welsh, not Hispanic, you know).

In any case, it was yet another example of our human capacity to emphasize differences over similarities. It’s little wonder that we get into crazed debates over larger, more ambiguous definitions (eg, who is a real American?) when we can’t even agree that Chicanos are Latino. It’s also symptomatic of Hispanic culture’s inability to coalesce, which is one reason the political power of Latinos is one notch above the lobbying strength of Idaho beet farmers.

Despite my annoyance, I wish no ill harm to the young Chicano. I hope the guy enjoyed the rollercoaster. But I also hope that at some point during the day, when he was strolling hand in hand with his girlfriend and eating cotton candy and handing stuffed animals to her, that she looked deep into his eyes and said, “You know, honey, that’s a really stupid t-shirt.”


June 2008
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