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Friday, November 16, 2007

A teachable moment in Portland: Cesar Chavez, Chicanos, Latinos and "the Community."

I am going to try to seize a teachable moment amid this mind-numbing conversation that used to be about Cesar Chavez….

Much of the confusion stems from the lack of clarity regarding who is speaking and on whose behalf they claim to be speaking.

Virtually all of the public discussion centers on “Latinos” and the “Latino community”, or “the Community,” and what “they” say “they” ("the Community") wants.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The terms "Latino" and "Hispanic" do not necessarily describe the same people.

2. There is no single Latino "community." There is no formal Latino "leader."

3. There is no single Hispanic "community." There is no formal Hispanic "leader."

4. Often, "Latino" or "Hispanic" people refer to themselves as “Hispanic” in one circumstance, and as a “Latino” under a different circumstance, on the same day.

5. I personally cannot tell the difference between the two. I recognize that these categories were created by the US Census Bureau, and do not necessarily apply to any particular circumstance in real life.

6. “Hispanic” and “Latino” do not indicate any particular ethnic or national orientation.

7. Cesar Chavez's ethnicity was neither "Hispanic" nor "Latino," except in the broadest sense, like "homo sapiens."

8. His ethnicity was "Mexican American" and "Chicano." From the ground up.

9. None of the participants in the Interstate fiesta, nor any of the City officials, appear to recognize this distinction.

9. "Latinos" and "Hispanics" are not necessarily either "Mexican Americans" or "Chicanos."

10. Chicanos are Chicanos. There is no substitute. This is the essence of our identity.

11. The Portland State University Department of Chicano AND Latino Studies recognizes the difference between the two cultures. Educate yourselves. Here's the link:

12. If any process of appointment or election or other form of open public communal decision-making has indeed occurred to create or empower any cadre of individuals or groups to speak on behalf of “Latinos” or “the Latino Community” or “the Community,” on any issue, there has been no corresponding process in the Mexican American or Chicano communities in Portland.

13. Like Cesar Chavez, I am a Mexican American and a Chicano. No one speaks for me, not without clearing it with me beforehand. We Chicanos are like that.

--Sean Cruz

Mexican American, Chicano Sean Cruz

From the Portland Mercury blog:

After reading Sean Cruz blog, I did pay attention to how the words Mexican American were never used in city council testimony. Thank you for sharing and teaching.

Posted by herein1956 November 16, 2007 9:01 PM

Credit: I want to thank Dr. John Kramer, my former professor and mentor in the Department of Political Science at California State University, Sonoma, for making this day possible, for finding me somehow, and convincing me that I had some talent. Thank you, John. Who knew?


Kevin said...

Do these same principles apply to the other ethnic grouping ("Whites" being referred to in this very public controversy?

For example... is there no meaningful difference, in terms of this issue, between an individual of Jewish ancestory and an individual of Irish ancestory? Both may have skin that is more or less the same color, just as a "Chicano" and a "Latino" may both have skin that is more or less the same color.

Are the public statements, vis-a-vis renaming a street after Cesar Chavez, of an American of Irish ancestory equally applicable to an American of Jewish ancestory by virtue of skin color or vice versa?

I ask because I am, strictly speaking, a Jew and don't have any Irish ancestory. Although that distinction would very likely be utterly lost on you if you'd only happened to see me in person or even if I gave you my full legal name here in cyber space.

sean cruz said...

Kevin: thanks for writing (and reading!). I can't figure it out at all.

Kevin said...

Fair enough, Sean.

Let me ask a question that you are perhaps better able to answer authoritatively. And I'm genuinely curious here...

My mother-in-law's maiden name is Garcia. She doesn't like to talk about her ancestory but I do know that her father moved to Washington from Texas. Further back than that I have zero information and likely never will since she won't discuss it.

Anyway... just judging by her physical features I'd say that she has little, if any, Spanish ancestory. Which is to say that she looks very much like she's close to pure whatever Native American tribe/people her ancestory is. I'm no expert anthropology by any means but I'd guess that they're from Northern Mexico, possibly originating in the general vicinity of modern-day Texas/Coahuila.

What would be the proper ethnic term for her?

I ask partly out of my own curiosity but also because I'm a single dad raising her grandaughter and while I've tried very hard to engender a pride in my daughter of her presumed Mexican heritage, I'd like to be as accurate with that as I can.

Just going by Webster's definitions it seems that Chicano might be the most appropriate except that it appears to have a gender value attached to it which she obviously does not have.


Julie Rogers said...

Thank you for your blog and words.This is not about the renaming mess. I am not writing this for blog post, I just have some questions:
With your run for Senate, how are you organizing your campaign?
What are your key issues?
And why can't we TALK about the imigration issue?
thank you again

sean cruz said...

Julie: thanks for writing. I'll be posting answers to your questions over the coming weeks. Please stay tuned. Sean

sean cruz said...

Kevin: I'm still trying to sort out the "Latino" vs "Hispanic" question, looks like it'll take some time. Sean