Five large, unblemished pieces of paper hung on one side of the room, framing the seated audience. The papers are stark and barren except for a single term written across the tops of each page, a term denoting some demographic of the Latin American community.
The audience was invited by Dr. Michaela Mares-Tamay to approach each page and provide their own definitions and connotations to each of the terms. After a few brief moments of reticence, audience members rose from their seats to confront the pages and oblige their stated purpose. On a warm Wednesday close to lunch hour, the first stage of a dialogue over the term “LatinX”, Latino history, and Latino identity began to take shape in the Wifi lounge.
The event, presented and facilitated by Tamay, began with a simple exercise to integrate the audience into what was after all, advertised as a “LatinX dialogue.” By the conclusion of the exercise, all five sheets of paper were emblazoned with at least a few possible denotations and or connotations. One by one, Tamay appraised the suggestions for their accuracy. The first sheet the subject of inspection was labeled, “Hispanic.”
The sheet was adorned with suggestions such as, “Central and South America, except Brazil,” “survey,” “spanish,” “census data,” and “colonization.” She went on to emphasize that the term Hispanic, was “adopted by the U.S. Government during the presidency of Richard Nixon,” and“implemented on the U.S. census in 1980.”The relevance of the term is primarily two-fold, one that it,
“emphasizes a sense of community through a cultural connection to Spain,” said Tamay and two, “that it allowed Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban community leaders to reframe issues as national concerns and not regional ones.”
The term essentially allowed these leaders to demonstrate that the Hispanic community is diverse but can still exercise solidarity and a cultural affinity between the various ethnic groups that itencompasses.
The next term discussed, was “Latina/o”, and the audience’s suggestions faired, comparably or perhaps even better, than they had for the first term. The formal definition offered by the presentation, which had been effectively paraphrased by the audience, was, “an encompassing term for Latin American origin or descent living in the U.S.” Various distinct ethnic and cultural groups that fall under this term are,
“United by a specific political history of colonization and U.S. foreign policy, in the Western Hemisphere,” said Tamay.
Following arguably the most broad term, which essentially encapsulates all Latin Americans, the next two terms discussed were the more politically exclusive labels: “Chicana/o” and “Xicano/a”.
The audience had covered the sheet pertaining to Chicano/a with some abstract ideas such as, “active revolution and evolution,” as well as some more concrete ideas, namely, how “Mexican-American” is a key demographic connected to the term. Tamay explained how the term was, “popularized in the 1960s during civil rights movements,” despite having existed prior to this era.
She also noted how it “most often refers to Mexican-Americans,” but is not exclusive to them. What really defines the term is that it is a packed with political positions such as commitments to education, self-empowerment, and other social justice issues.
The term Xicano shares the same primary cultural and political beliefs that Chicanos hold but they also add that as Latin-Americans they identify more strongly with their indigenous heritage and not to any colonial power. The ‘X’ in Xicano is derived from the language of the Nahua, an indigenous group, primarily found in Mexico.
Finally, the presentation arrived at the one million dollar term, the label most prominently displayed on the promotional flyers, “LatinX”. Audience suggestions, ranged from, “gender studies majors,” to the more accurate and mature, “gender neutral” comment.
Apparently none of these preconceptions were entirely accurate in describing the scope and substance of the term. According to Tamay, the term, “seeks to include people beyond gendered norms and further inclusivity.” Essentially the term attempts to include everyone in the Latin-American community even if they had traditionally been ostracized or marginalized.
To reinforce the significance and gravity of these terms, Tamay provided some relevant data about current demographics. For instance, “as of 2014, latina/os are the largest ethnic group in California,” and, “54 million live across the U.S.”
The presentation concluded with a few final remarks, mainly emphasizing how vast and diverse the Latino/a community is, how one can, “claim identity through empowerment,” and that, “solidarity is built through dialogue and listening.” This last point was bolstered by Tamay’s observation that how even in a single Latino/a family, various members can identify by different terms and yet grow and coexist through discussion.
The general attitude amongst members of the audience by the conclusion of the presentation was positive and seemingly satisfied. Student Benjamin Candido Falto-Armijo said,
“It was in depth and it talked a lot about the history of all the terms. I really appreciated that broad spectrum of experiences that they covered.”
PCC pathways coordinator Carlos Tito Altamirano, shared a similar sentiment.
“I thought it was empowering and engaging,” he said.
Tamay was ultimately pleased with how presentation turned out, and felt that it was necessary because,
“We’re at a campus that is 51% latina/latino/latinx, so I think it’s particularly important to understand exactly who are we talking about because it’s our students that basically this presentation was about.”