I identify as Puerto Rican and I’ve always been asked “are you sure?” Yes, even with my light skin complexion and lack of fluency in Spanish, I’m Puerto Rican. Time and time again, I’m put in the position of having to validate my ethnic identity to other Latinos. Both of my parents were born on the island and eventually migrated to the States with their respective families. With that being said, I think that’s more than enough evidence that I’m Puerto Rican.
As a kid, the questioning of my identity forced me to understand race and ethnicity at a much more nuanced level. It was — and still is — frustrating to have to vouch for myself and my identity. My latinidad shouldn’t have to boil down only to my skin color and fluency in Spanish. It’s even more disheartening when it was my own family members and other Latinos who invalidated my identity.
“Latinidad” is a Spanish-language term first coined by sociologist Felix Padilla during his 1985 research of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Chicago. Since then, the term has been used as a way to speak of Latino communities and the varying cultural aspects of every heritage. Each Latin American heritage has distinct differences, from speaking Spanish differently to having unique traditional dishes.
Making Latinos prove their latinidad to each other is another result of the internalized racism impacting the Latino community. The demographic that experiences this racism the most within the Latino community are Afro-Latinos. In an article from The Huffington Post, Afro-Latinos got together and wrote what it meant to identify as Afro-Latino. One person’s anecdote described not being fully accepted within the Latino community or the black community.
There’s even the phrase “mejorar la raza” which translates to “improve the race.” This phrase implies Latinos should marry and have children with a whiter person since European features are historically viewed as the standards of beauty.
We shouldn’t have to face the dilemma of not being good enough for our community and having to prove our latinidad. It’s damaging enough that people of color have to deal with so much bigotry in the United States. The least we as Latinos can do as a community is to accept one another. There’s enough division in the United States, now more than ever. So it’s important we stick together as a community instead of creating a sense of division among ourselves.
As a student of Puerto Rican heritage who’s also the first in my immediate family to attend college, I already felt as if I didn’t belong at Loyola. I found myself being one of the few Latino students in the classroom.
In the fall of 2017, Hispanic students made up 16.7 percent of the total undergraduate student population. This is part of the reason why the Latin American-based organizations on campus are petitioning for a space for Latino students to have for themselves. The space will serve to help students of Latin heritage meet one another and bond. This could be the chance for us to feel that we belong at Loyola.
So, mi gente, my fellow Latinos, I’m asking you to stop forcing others to validate their latinidad. Just because someone like me has skin color that can allow them to pass as another racial identity, and isn’t fluent in Spanish, doesn’t make them any less Latino. I’m proud of my roots and my community. I wear my identity as a badge of honor, and I think that’s more than enough validation.