Tanya Saracho was recently featured in the New York Times. The title of the article reads, “Mexican? American? Call Her Writer.” Now, any Chicagoan who’s even remotely ethnically inclined might have heard of the stellar theater company, Teatro Luna, co-founded by Saracho with the illustrious and in my opinion, often overlooked and unfortunately out-shadowed Coya Paz (unmentioned by the New York Times article – case in point). My concern however isn’t with the selective memory of certain artists, reporters or publications. Instead, I take issue with the tittle and the subsequent discourse the interview/feature redundantly falls under.
As a young, queer beige Latino (and I use the phrase quite intentionally), this unfortunate NYT title harps back to the age-old identity question harassing college kids and myopic Latinas/os calling themselves “Hispanics” for decades. If you were born brown or beige or dully blessed and in some cases cursed, to immigrant or die-hard U.S. American parents with a Spanish surname in the past 30 years, chances are you’ve been having the same identity crisis as every other Latino/Hispanic (insert Latin American nationality here), who’s spent any major amount of time in the “melting pot” of the U.S. Or maybe you haven’t had this debate in your heart or head at all, and have staunchly redefined your identity to fit the situation, your mood and the benefits, as you should.
Too many times I’ve run into young Latinos who take the humanist, anthropological approach to self-definition, claiming themselves to be “human beings” over any race, and with due cause. Any college-bound kid should know that race is a social construct. But, when you’re sitting in a room full of a majority white middle-class suburban students at, for example, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and you’re in the corner of the room with your fellow Chicago –sometimes born but always raised, mostly “Mexican-American” friends, the human “race” starts to look like somewhat of a bi-polar species.
Sitting in that same group of brown and beige Chicagoans (because above all that’s what defines you), you start to divide amongst yourselves even. Those who are die-hard Chicanas/os, claiming the Aztec sol, and those less reticent, more lax culture-crossers, cool with the radicalism, urgency and the absolute survivalism of alliance with their Chicano history, but for academic or even personal preference, rather include themselves with moderate Latinidad. Identifying more with the Puerto Rican girls they learned to juke in church basements with or struggling with their lost Cuban connections, this crew is at all the M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan) meetings and events, but might not ever really call themselves Chicanas/os.
However much of a cop-out or immature self-denial the humanist route may seem, ignoring the history of racial demarcation, struggle and just identification, I understand the convenience of ignoring the whole identity headache. On the other hand, claiming a politicized, hyper-nostalgic Chicano identity, will probably never really hurt you either. At worst you’ll just look outdated or out of touch, but fervently dedicated to social justice and immigrant rights. And as for the Mexican-American identifiers still amongst us, really that’s just too long and too music-mash up, SabastiAn Vs Justice about it. As if the hamburger and chile relleno really could exist on the same plate or let alone by simple hyphenation. Come on, give your U.S. experience and culture more credit. Now a chile relleno cheeseburger is a whole different story!
Whichever camp you fall into, the point remains, the debate between Latinidad, Chicanismo, or even the defunct Hispanic is the kind of discourse you’d expect from an identity-forming college kid. Not the kind of discourse eluded to on the New York Times. Americanness aside, it looks like we’ll never escape or progress from the same old Latino Studies 101 discourse: to Mexican? American? or not… Like a rote Hamlet, are Latinos in the U.S. seriously going to ever break from this identity crisis? Or in the case of the New York Times and the white “mainstream” that dictates value as much as it moderates premise, will the gringos ever just get it a rest? Are we that confusing? Are we that strange? Does our blond-haired, blue-eyed Spanish and our brown-skin and perfect English really perplex anybody these days?
As convenient as it might seem or binary as it may appear, the notion of either-or identity concerns is outdated and irrelevant. Saracho is not simply a writer anymore than she is simply Mexican or (U.S.) American. Not that the article dictates identity, simply that the question, the utterance of the dying discourse reiterates Latinos’ perpetual, neither-here-nor-there place in the U.S. Fact is though, we are here, and there are too many of us to still conveniently denying our existence, our racial histories, our nationalities, and rightful claim to this country and its culture as our own. Seems like the golden hub of cultural capital, the NYT, barely figured out what identity politics look like. Y’all need to catch up. Meanwhile, Saracho and all of us are stuck answering the same old questions. I’m straight up over it. Call yourself whatever you want, so long as you know who you are and are unashamed of where you came from.