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The Orlando Sentinel

'Hispanic Hype' Hides Differences

by Myriam Marquez

September 18, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Somewhere in the midst of all the recent Hispanic Hype about the solidarity among the different Latin American nationalities, all of us converging in the United States to form one perfect union, lies one simple truth:

We're really not that chummy.

We are, in fact, a work in progress. Some of us are more "American," as in the United States of America, than other "Americans," as in those who identify first with their Central American or South American or Caribbean heritage.

For the most part, those of us who can trace our ancestral roots south of the U.S. border don't refer to ourselves first as Hispanic or Latino or Latin. Most of us probably don't even hyphenate our identities.

No, if we're honest, many of us will tell you that we are Cuban or Puerto Rican, Colombian or Venezuelan or Argentinian or Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic, and so forth.

Or we get creative: An Argentina-born friend, a politically active U.S. citizen who has lived in this country for eons, interjects "Gaucho for Life" into the middle of his name when he leaves me a phone message.

Another friend from Puerto Rico by way of New York refers to himself as "Boricua," the name first given to that island by the indigenous people who lived there before the Spanish conquest.

Then there are those who chose assimilation the way of Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn, Raquel Welch or Linda Rondstadt, all among several "American" entertainers who picked artistic names that didn't let on that they came from Latin America or that they were the children of parents born in Spain or Mexico or Uruguay or somewhere else where Spanish is spoken.

They didn't hide their Latin American heritage, per se. They just didn't broadcast it.

Some seemed to broadcast it a little more once Latino music and culture became popular. Rondstadt, for instance, sang in Spanish a few years ago for an album that showcased her father's Mexican ancestry.

I bring up these distinctions in ethnicity and identity because lately it seems that every time I change the television channel, there's another awards show lauding Hispanic actors or singers or cultural icons or political leaders here in the states.

That is a source of pride for many of us. It is for me when I see Cuban-born Andy Garcia or Gloria Estefan headlining a show. But it also is a source of friction for some people.

"Why have a Latin Grammy Awards show?" one caller to an Orlando radio show asked. "That's discrimination. How would they like it if we had the white Grammy Awards show?"

Latin music, of course, is a genre all its own, with many nuances and styles, the Orlando dee-jay responded. Just like country music or pop or hip-hop. Or Italian opera.

Nevertheless, one's source of pride can be another's bone of contention.

Actor Quinn wondered in one interview what Latino means: "Does that mean Venezuelans, Argentines, and doesn't that take in Italians also?"

The Mexican-born, 85-year-old actor, who not too long ago married a young thing after becoming a father once again, says he's American, period. "I will fight for the rest of my life," he said, "so that my children will not be hyphenated."

No need to fight, chico.

We are what we want to be. The beauty of being an "American" is that we each have the freedom to celebrate our past or to deny it, whether we're a Knight of Columbus or a Daughter of the Revolution or a Gaucho for Life.

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