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Viewpoint, Commentary

The San Juan Star

We Must Define Ourselves Individually

By Arturo J. Guzmán

Friday, May 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The San Juan Star. All rights reserved.

I consistently refuse to employ the term "African-American" because I’m convinced that it denotes dismal ignorance on such basic and varied subjects as History and Geography. If the term "African-American" were appropriately used it would refer to and include Moroccans, Libyans, Egyptians and other Africans who’s racial, ethnic and/or cultural origins are different from those of the black slaves that were forcibly brought into the New World.

Additionally in the United States there is also a "politically correct" requisite that this racial group of fellow citizens be alternatively addressed, as "blacks" further compounding matters for those of us who know the word’s roots in the Spanish language.

If you were to address a Spanish speaking "black" using its translated word "negro" which is also the same word for the color black, it would be considered racist and unacceptable. However, adding to the confusion and contradiction, in the English language the formerly used and now unacceptable term "Negroe" is a degeneration of Spanish’s word "negro" which in turn would translate to the now preferable "black".

Even the racist pejorative of "nigger" has a more innocent geographic explanation because it is a degeneration of the word Niger which is the name of the African River and region where most of the initial slave trade originated. As a matter of fact, one of the predominant tribes that populated the Niger River was the "Negritos" who were amongst the earlier victims of the slave trade to the Americas, and thus the source for the racial terminology.

For the same reasons of generalized educational deficiencies, I also refuse to use or accept the term "Hispanic" in the manner that it has become popularized. Often time newspapers publications and other media print polls and articles referring to "Hispanics" as a racial group to be compared to "whites" presumptuously ignoring that there are "Hispanics" of as diverse racial groups as there are in any other groups that share a common language. Even the federal government in applications, census questionnaires, etc. helps propagate what is an evident display of ignorance and stereotyping.

The term "Hispanic" should only be applied as a linguistic, not a racial, ethnic, or even cultural denominator or characteristic. It applies to peoples that populate or descend from Spanish-speaking areas in the Caribbean, North, Central, South America, parts of Africa, and of course Spain, regardless of race, ethnicity or culture which in "Hispanics" are as varied as in any other linguistic or geo-political group. Give this a thought: Throughout the Americas and parts of Europe there are plentiful samples of people who are White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and linguistically "Hispanic".

This national compulsion for generalization, compartmentalization, stereotyping and labeling without even the most elemental regard for learned accuracy can best be exemplified by the experiences of a good friend of mine who happens to be black and born in Cuba. In his college days, he used these characteristics to his personal advantage by checking under which "label" he would get the best benefits either as a "Cuban-American", an "African-American" or a "Hispanic".

Unfortunately, it is also true that a considerable segment of the Spanish-speaking population of the United States is adding to these misconceptions for political and economic reasons because they have failed to assert their own identity and individuality and have found it more expedient to self-label themselves as "Hispanics’’. In doing so, they have acquiesced and accepted the imposed stereotypical prejudiced image that they are a single homogeneous mass of "Brown, Catholic people, who speak Spanish, have large families, vote Democrat, at some point slipped across some border, have nice-looking sisters, work once in a while, eat a lot, and sleep long siestas".

At no time does this deception become more prevalent than when we approach a national electoral cycle. Republican and Democrats persist in addressing "Hispanic issues" in blanket terms not realizing for example that as a determining voting issue illegal immigration is as unimportant to Puerto Ricans in Chicago or Hartford, as Puerto Rico’s status may be to Mexican-Americans in Texas or California or Cubans in Miami. Any candidate that prepares to break through the stereotypes and identifies and addresses the individual aspirations and concerns of each Spanish-speaking community will prevail as the winning trend to an inclusive and informed future.

However beyond the expectation that better education will lead to better understanding and recognition of what and who we are, I hope to see the day when all labels imposed or accepted are torn and we begin to address one another as equal children of God known by our names and individual traits and attributes instead of by our races, ethnicity, linguistic or cultural values. But for that day to pass we must begin by defining ourselves individually and by firmly refusing being defined by others.

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