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The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Celebrate Hispanic Role In America

By Jorge Luis Romeu

October 8, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

This time of the year we commemorate and celebrate the contributions of U.S. citizens of Spanish and Latin American descent. And we reaffirm our presence, for at more than 35 million, we are now the largest U.S. minori ty. Now Hispanics do count: We buy, helping the economy and increasing company revenues; and we vote, deciding close elections.

But, who really are "Hispanics" or "Latinos"? Are we two different groups? How do we look? What do we do? Where do we live? How do we think?

Hispanics are many, yet we are one. We are 60 percent of Mexican origin, 12 percent Puerto Ricans, 5 percent Cuban, Spanish, Central and South American, and 2 percent Dominicans.

Within these national groups there are divisions. Of Mexican origin are those born in Mexico who immigrated, legally or not, to the United States. Also, those who have been born here from these immigrants, or from second or third-generation ancestors. Then there are those whose ancestors were in New Mexico, California, Texas and Colorado when these territories passed into U.S. hands in the first half of the 19th century. They never immigrated, just acquired U.S. citizenship. Literally, they "came with the territory." Some of these are direct descendants of American Indians and are thus "Native American Hispanics."

Some of Puerto Rican origin were born in the island and moved here and some were born on the mainland. The million born in New York are sometimes called "Newyork Ricans." Like many Mexicans in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans never immigrated anywhere. They became U.S. citizens when Puerto Rico passed into American hands after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Most others came here as immigrants, some recently and some long ago. What we have in common is that many if not most of us still speak or understand Spanish, eat ethnic food and have close-knit family ties.

Hispanics have had different reasons for coming to America, all of them valid. Some came for economic reasons, others for political ones - to avoid persecution or the violence of civil war. Many settled near their point of entry - in Southern California, Southern Florida, New York, Texas and New Mexico. But in recent years, we have moved all over the country, and Hispanic subgroups have mixed.

Hispanics or Latinos also come in many colors and shapes. They are Caucasian, African, Native American Indian (from North and South America), even Asian. But we are mostly mixed from all of the above, culturally if not racially. And our extended families often include members of all those groups, a root of our proclivity for racial integration that could be our greatest contribution to American society.

Economically we also vary widely. Roberto Goizueta was President of Coca-Cola and Jorge Mas of Mastech, a billion-dollar engineering firm. There are college professors and teachers, engineers and business people. We also have factory and office workers, farm laborers and yes, people on the welfare rolls and in jail. They are all ours and we own up to them all.

Unfortunately, many Hispanics are still poor, as was recently shown in a national statistics where Syracuse's Hispanic children ranked at the bottom.

Finally, we have the name issue - "Hispanic" or "Latino"? Hispanic rings more international, relating to the Hispanic world (Latin America, Spain) and was given to our group by outsiders. Latino is a name Hispanics have given to themselves. It is much more politicized, and rings of the United States. For some of us, the name issue is secondary to others of more pressing urgency.

Let's celebrate that we are here and that we participate in this great society. And let all others who are also here know that we have contributed, and continue to contribute, in most if not all walks of life; and that like everyone else, we are proud of who we are, where we came from, and what we will become in the future. Jorge Luis Romeu of Syracuse is host of the TV program, "Entre Vecinos" and directs the Juarez Lincoln Marti International Education Project; this commentary was adapted from remarks to ALANA, the African, Latino, Asian and Native American student organization at SUNY Oswego.

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