Ella, El, y Nosotros: Latinxs and our (complicated) place in race in American culture
The more we see Latinxs like Ted Cruz, Destiny Vèlez, and Marco Rubio come into prominence in the American consciousness, we need to better at understand who they are, where they come from, what informs their beliefs, and what all “Latinxness” actually entails.
So, (former) Miss America PR contestant Destiny Vèlez said a thing on Twitter. A very, very, very ignorant thing.
Leaving aside for a bit the problematic conflation of “Judeo-Christian” values and the horrible amounts of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and the all-too-natural desire to attack people’s inalienable human right in her statements, in my head, I thought “Pendeja thinks que?” Christians don’t have terrorizing agendas in their sacred books?
While that may be true that based on more generous interpretation the Bible doesn’t condone genocide, violence, tyranny and terror as a way to practice the religion despite that it does describe lots of it, you wouldn’t know that based on how Christianity has been observed by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere and really all over since 1492.
I mean, this woman literally comes from a colonized island once inhabited by nothing but Indigenous Arawak people who were all wiped out within 100 years of contact, had their nation taken and renamed and reestablished as a Spanish Catholic sovereignty through the work of enslaved Africans, and is currently over 90% Christian and 75% white. My own family comes from a nation which, in the greatest show of Christian arrogance, was renamed after a whole Catholic order by the Spanish colonizers. The United States, which Puerto Rico is seen as a “Commonwealth” of, another colonialist attachment, had Christian boarding schools wherein Native children were often taken from their homes by force & re-educated, which is to say made to stop speaking their mother tongues, practicing their cultures and religions, and assimilate into majority European culture. They experienced all types of physical, sexual, emotional, and mental torture, abuse, and assault, and many were even killed, their bodies tossed into unmarked graves, their deaths never reported to their families. Virtually every Christian denomination except for a few operated these boarding schools.
So to say that there hasn’t been violent agendas or supremacist forces that worked in tandem with (interpretations and practices of) Christian texts, and to the benefit of European Christian peoples and countries to enact violence on other human populations for the sake of power, profit, and control is to have a revisionist, colonialist, anti-Black, erasing white view of Latinx history and how we even came to exist in the first place.
Unfortunately, this kind of a-historical whitewashed understanding of Latinxness is all too common. Many Latinxs, specifically white, passing/light skinned, and mixed/Mestizo folk, identify with the ways that have been established by the European colonizers. We identify with whiteness and Spanishness, with Catholicism, with national identities regardless of minority race or cultural background within that nation, identify with the falsehood that is the Latinx “cultural melting pot”. And we ignore and aggress the communities unable and unwilling to assimilate into these supremacist norms, namely darker Black and Indigenous communities. Then, in the United States, those same white Latinxs come here with the goal of assimilating and adjusting yet again. Others of us lower down in the caste system come with hopes to get along better but with less ability to assimilate into power even if the desire remains. As it goes, our already complex and complicated backgrounds and history get oversimplified and whitened yet again. All Latinxs in the American consciousness are understood as being exact the same as one another racially, having the same beliefs and backgrounds, and experiencing the same types of discrimination, and wanting the same thing. Thus any Latinx can represent all of us when they speak. So when the Velezes and Cruzes of the world speak up, the world, and even yet many Latinxs, are left confused. But we shouldn’t be.
The fact of the matter is that common understandings of Latinxness are dangerously simplistic. The things that unify us don’t have happy cheery genesises (as colonialism seldom does) nor do they supersede how our backgrounds, races, struggles, and ways of identifying and engaging this world all vastly differ and are informed by our racial and cultural backgrounds and the color of our skin, among other factors. There’s still racism, colorism, classism, xenophobia, anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity, islamophobia, etc. to battle the same as any other formerly (or currently!) colonized place in this world.
When we consider all of this, we can more easily understand why Latinxs might believe and navigate the world how they do and, in the case of white and passing Latinxs, how toxic their rhetoric can be not to themselves but to marginalized Latinx communities. We can also become better at elevating and lifting Latinx communities of color that often do not get acknowledged at all in the conversation.