Between the upcoming presidential election, 45’s White nationalist immigration policy, Census 2020 and the El Paso Walmart massacre, everyone is talking about my people. That attention has always felt dangerous, but it feels especially difficult now. Whenever I hear the word “Latinos” I have to wonder exactly who they are talking about. It is a term for a group, but often the image of the group it conjures is incomplete.
Even before this period of increased attention, I’ve wanted to explore Latinx racial identity through writing and interviews. Because I’m Cuban. Because of the anti-Blackness and anti-Indigineity I’ve been witness to all my life. Because we are a wildly diverse group. Because we are lumped into one mass for the convenience of the state. Because, racism.
But I’ve never been able to articulate why this question was so urgent until August 3, when anti-Latinx rhetoric turned into a 21-year-old White nationalist allegedly driving 10 hours to an El Paso Walmart to murder “Hispanics,” killing 22 and wounding 24.
Next year the United States 2020 Census will ask, “What race are you?” Technically, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, Latino/a/x is not a race. The Bureau doesn’t even use that term. By its estimates, in 2018, “Hispanics” comprised 18.1 percent of the national population, the second largest racial demographic in this country.
As a 2015 article from Pew Research Center explains, “Federal policy defines ‘Hispanic’ not as a race, but as an ethnicity. And it prescribes that Hispanics can in fact be of any race. But these census findings suggest that standard U.S. racial categories might either be confusing or not provide relevant options for Hispanics to describe their racial identity.”
Meanwhile, the terms Hispanic and Latina/o continue to be used by government agencies, including police departments and schools, to identify individuals racially. But what do people who identify as Latinx consider ourselves? And why should we care?
In the public square that is the internet, Latinidad and racial identity have been hotly debated. We know representation matters, and as more Latinxs are in the cultural and political spotlight, more of our issues are coming to the fore. Whether it is the anti-Blackness of our celebrities (I’m lookin’ at you, Gina Rodriguez) or the trash narrative of “we are all immigrants” that erases Latinx indigeneity (and rightfully offends the descendants of enslaved Africans, who reached every port of North and South America) these issues are muddied by this confounding dynamic. When we vote, when we buy things or watch things, when we’re arrested, when we create things or destroy them, institutions group us together—or separate us based on what they perceive and what threatens them.
In “Who Do We Think We Are,” Colorlines will explore the experiences of Latinx-identified movement leaders, artists and cultural innovators interviews. The folks I interview will paint a broad overview by answering the same set of questions about how they define Latinidad and what the implications of Latinx racial identity are for their work, for racial justice and beyond.
Latinx racial identity matters because we are supposedly the largest non-White group in the U.S. We’re the tipping point that will shift this country’s demographics. It matters because we are seen as a threat. It matters because racism. In a time where violence and systemic racism against Latinx communities is especially visible, it feels vital to ask people who are living in this racial multi-verse, “Who do we think we are?”
Rosana Cruz is a writer, parent, social justice movement leader and intersectional feminist. They have lived in New Orleans for over 20 years and in that time, worked closely with numerous organizations in the struggle for racial justice, LGBTQIA+ liberation and immigrant rights. They currently serve as a senior fellow at Race Forward, the national racial justice organization that publishes Colorlines. Essays by Cruz have been published in hipMama, Bridge the Gulf Project, Colorlines and the anthology Mamaphonic. Cruz is a 2017 VONA Voices Fellow. Short fiction by Cruz is forthcoming in the Spring 2020 issue of Black Warrior Review.