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Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY)
Local Hispanics Have Long Tradition
February 4, 2003
That the Democrat and Chronicle will publish monthly stories this year on Hispanic challenges and triumphs is welcome news. The paper is paying attention to the growing numbers of Latinos in the area; other institutions must do the same.
The first article, ``Barriers crumbling'' (Jan. 26), suggesting that bonding through cross-culture relationships is taking place as the Hispanic community grows, was a good start. I would like to point out, however, that Hispanics for a long time have bonded with other ethnic groups. Evidence of this is the significant number of interracial marriages in our community over the past 40 years. In my own family, we refer to ourselves as the United Nations: We have European Americans, African Americans, Italian Americans and Asian Americans. You name it, we have it.
For Puerto Ricans, and most of the Hispanics in the area are Puerto Ricans, race is a non-issue. That does not mean that racism does not exist among Puerto Ricans. It does.
When many of us were growing up in Puerto Rico, we were emphatically encouraged to marry someone light skinned or lighter than us to whiten the race. In the Puerto Rican society, if you had a small percentage of white in your heritage, you were considered white. The obvious implication here, of course, is that white is superior to black. That is blatant racism.
Many of our parents brought this concept to this country, but soon the second generation learned that no matter how light you were, if you were a Puerto Rican, you were still colored. Puerto Ricans are a mix of white European (Spaniards), African and Arawak (Taino Indians). When the Spaniards arrived in Borinquen (the Taino's name for Puerto Rico), they found a population of about 30,000 Taino Indians. Eventually, all the Tainos were killed, frightened off, or absorbed by the Spanish colonizers. Then African slaves were brought against their will to replace the Taino slaves. Because the Spaniards brought few women with them, these three groups mixed together.
Throughout the centuries, people arriving on the island from all over the world, including China, Japan and the Middle East, also spiced this stew.
I agree with the young people quoted in the article: We are very proud of who we are, and that has always been our strength.
Vazquez is president, Ibero-American Action League in Rochester.