Since When Are Latinos “Alien”?

Percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents by ...
The percentage of Latinos by county.Image via Wikipedia

With a green card that formally and officially names me as a “resident alien”, I’m the certified foreigner in our household, not my Hispanic partner of eleven years who is first-generation American, of Mexican descent, but who is resoundingly and red-bloodedly American.

He wears khakis and polished black loafers, loves to golf, reads business magazines like Fortune and Forbes. He works at The New York Times, arguably one of the most establishment of employers, and has for decades. He drives a Subaru, drinks gimlets, takes the commuter train to Grand Central Station every weekday with legions of lawyers and media guys and non-profit executives.

He’s just one of the guys — even if he keeps a bag of pozole in the freezer and a beloved black pottery pot of his Mom’s from New Mexico, where he was born and raised.

But that’s about it. Issues of race and identity are much less compelling to either of us than the usual mid-life, mid-career questions:

When and where will we ever be able to retire? What’s for dinner? What are we doing this weekend?

Which is why I found this Wall Street Journal op-ed, by Janet Murguia, decidedly odd:

Like others who brought demographic change to America, our presence has stirred anxiety among some of our fellow Americans. A century ago, people expressed the same concerns about waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and Eastern Europe. It was understandable—but it also turned out to be unfounded. As the number of Latinos grows, our fellow Americans need to overcome the natural human anxiety that accompanies change and look for common ground…

It’s time for people to stop thinking about Latinos as “foreigners,” “aliens,” or “others” and start thinking of us as their fellow workers, classmates, colleagues, worshippers, neighbors, friends and family.

I’m clearly missing something here. I don’t see someone Latino and make any specific assumptions about their education or income or legal status.

We’ve attended meetings of NSHMBA, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.

When I hit my local grocery store, in suburban New York, an aisle is devoted to Latino favorites, many made by the successful firm of GOYA, founded in 1936.

My local car wash is run by a man from Colombia,  a successful and hard-working man who employs other Latinos in his community.

Two of the most talented young recent college graduates I know are a photographer and a journalist; he’s won major national awards and she’s heading off to the Los Angeles Times soon for a job there.

When I see Hispanics and Latino(a)s, I see my in-laws, friends, neighbors and colleagues, all of them hardworking, talented, ambitious — and American.

Yet when Jose and I started dating, after he found me on-line, (under the truthful headline “Catch Me If You Can”), friends started pelting me with absurd cliches:

“Does he dance salsa?” “Does he wear a guayabera?”

Excuse me?

This is a guy whose Times colleagues dubbed “the preppy Mexican”…which left him nonplussed. Was this a compliment? Can’t Mexican men wear Brooks Brothers and Barbour and LL Bean?

I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for a few months when I was 14 and have been back to Mexico many times. I speak Spanish and it feels like home to me in some strange way. I have never understood why brown skin and a Hispanic surname offer license for all sorts of appalling stereotypes.

I’m aware there are millions of illegal aliens of Hispanic descent in the U.S. — while millions more, legally resident, also work hard, pay taxes and yearn for the same successes we all do.

Do you date or live with or did you marry a Hispanic or Latino(a)?

How, if at all, has this changed your life or your ideas?

12 thoughts on “Since When Are Latinos “Alien”?

  1. Living in San Diego, we are enmeshed in a diverse community of Hispanics, Anglos and Asians. It’s wonderful. Several of my lab-mates are of Hispanic descent — some from Mexico, others from Central and South America. We all enjoy sharing the different experiences and upbringings.

  2. The stereotypes make my eye twitch. My mother dated a man (born and raised in an American/Mexican bordertown), and he faced the same reduntantly ridiculous questions from people in our small, southern town. I couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why someone’s physical appearance or lineage acts as a cue for others to make assumptions.

  3. Our town is slowly becoming more Hispanic as they buy more homes and the old guard of French Canadians die off. I was asked by one of my older neighbors what I thought of ths change. My response was that it is families that are moving in. Isn’t that what we want – more families?

  4. Broadside, this post is excellent. Though stereotypes exist for a reason and are not intent to cause pain, I am blown away by generalities that continue to be made about one group or another. Trouble is, we laugh off some generalities and stereotypes and become angered/upset by others. Growing up blond, I can tell you I’ve heard my fair share of blond jokes. This may seem like a silly comparison, yet a generality/stereotype is a generality/stereotype. One seems to be hurt when hit directly.

    My nephew (30yrs this year) is covered in tattoos. (there is nothing wrong with tattoos.) I asked him if he would let his daughter, who is not yet 2, get tattoos when she is older. He said, “My response is the same response my parents gave me, ‘You can do whatever you want after you turn 18.'” Interestingly he added that he didn’t think she would be interested in tattoos. He felt it was a generational thing, and by the time she was older – fewer people would have tattoos.

    My point? I think much of what you’ve shared (how others respond) is generational. I don’t foresee my kids having the same reaction, because they know nothing else. I mean, they’ve grown up surrounded by integration. Does that make sense? I have hope for the future. I think these generalities will truly be a thing of the past. Good riddance!

    Thank you for writing this post.

  5. I want to thank you for this post, I agree with most that was written and the replies that have been left. I would just like to say as americans, wives, mothers,husbands, fathers, children and parents whatever label we have… all we can do is change how we live and respond and hope we are the example that our children can be proud to follow. I raised my children to believe in people. They are grown now and have FRIENDS… that is the “label>” We all deserve to be treated like a friend!

  6. ladyberrington

    hmmm my thoughts on this post are quick to surface

    why do we need to label anyone? are we not beyond that sociological/psycholgical action – reaction to ‘need’ to make sense of anything different that our brain scatters looking for a sensical answer to what does not seem usual to us???

    The insert you included is an excuse, in my opinion.

    My boyfriend/partner and is from Scotland originally. We have discussed his culture many times and included discussion about him fitting in to Canadian culture (whatever that is anyway). We notice the little difference almost daily even after 4 years and they are fun. But we do know that if his skin and eye colour were darker, others might not be so accepting of where he was originally from.
    What does it matter? just don’t understand. We are all born exactly the same way.
    I heard a little clip of an interview with actor Morgan Freeman about National Black Awareness Day (I beleive). He wishes there was no ‘special’ day set aside for any group of people. He thinks that since there is that it adds to the beliefs that some still wish to hold in that there are differences.
    Canada calls itself multicultural the U.S a melting pot. I think those two terms are very different and perhaps lead to some of the disparity. As North Americans both of our nations were built from the immigration of many different cultures – we should be celebrating our diversity and all that it teaches us!!!

  7. Thank you for the post. It addresses such a weird issue we still have in the US. I don’t know why the designation of “Latino” can bring on these stereotypes; I’m hopeful that it really just is a generational thing. We’re making progress… I have to hope.

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