Strange Ideas

by José Simián

A post on News Taco asks if US Latinos are “going to start passing as white.” The seemingly controversial question, hinging on whether “Latinos will go the way of the Irish and Italians” (the horror!), is deeply flawed.

First, the author defines “passing” as “self identifying as white, foregoing their culture or language, and remembering their heritage primarily via eagle and serpent tattoos on Cinco de Mayo.” But a growing number of people who identify as Latinos are not “passing” as anything when they “forego” of their culture or language. They are simply being honest to the fact that they are more American than, say, Mexican or “Latino” because they were born in the United States, like the majority of Latino children in the country. They don’t speak Spanish because they have attended English-speaking institutions all their lives.

That process has many names, but “passing” is not one of them.

Even more shocking is the fact that Sara Inés Calderón, the author of the post, assumes a critical attitude towards Latinos who marked themselves as “white” in the 2010 Census. This statement is not only ignorant of the controversy that surrounded questions 8 and 9 of the 2010 Census (i.e.: considering “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race), but also of the fact that the most likely race options for Hispanics to choose from were only three: “white,” “black” and “some other [fill-in] race.”

Thus, Calderón seems to be unaware of the fact that Latinos form a racial spectrum —one that unites people of infinite colors and backgrounds— impossible to be captured by the Census boxes. To compare Latinos with the Irish or Italian in this regard is simply incorrect, because the very idea of a “Latino” implies a multiracial and multicultural group, shattering the notion of a race and national identity.

So asking if we could “pass” as white is not only wrong: it is offensive to the very idea that Calderón claims to defend.