August 13, 1997
On National Public Radio this morning I heard the second segment about the growing Hispanic Population in the United States. I am usually quite impressed by NPR’s programming and journalistic integrity, however, I am concerned with the “minority” group comparisons which were being made and focused on. It was reported that soon enough the “Hispanic” or “Latin” population will outgrow the “Black” population. This is an inappropriate and commonly made comparison, because one group is largely determined by culture and ethnicity and the other by color and culture.
The Black or African-American population in America largely consists of a group whose descendants have been here for over a hundred years, brought in by the slave-trade from Africa and the Caribbean. Furthermore, the wave of immigration from those regions has largely ceased and the trickle of new immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Eretria or any of the other fifty-plus African nations often do not affiliate or immediately assimilate themselves into mainstream African-American culture and therefore should not be relegated to that group for census, political or journalistic purposes simply on the basis of their skin color.
The Latin-American or Hispanic population on the other hand does consists of a rather diverse group of people extending from Mexican-Americans with roots in “American” soil before Anglo frontiersman “discovered” the West Coast to the constant wave of new immigrants from over twenty-five countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean. This range includes Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, so on and so forth. And although most of us which have roots in the cultures of those regions would acknowledge the ties that bind, like the language, the music, the savory cuisine, and the fervent, passionate and carefree enjoyment of life, we also distinguish between ourselves based on the countries from which we stem.
Hence, whereas African-Americans may have chronologically distant roots in a continent, Latinos have theirs in individual countries where some immediate family members most likely still live. Moreover, there are many dark-skinned or even mulato individuals of Hispanic extraction who would not consider themselves “Black,” as the term is commonly used in the United States today, one which is a complete misnomer and has surprisingly not worn out its welcome.
In retrospect and hopefully in future application, the same deconstruction of our over-simplified perspective of ethnic or “minority” groups should be applied to Asian-Americans, “Whites” or Anglo-Americans. We may not be the big melting pot which theorists once advocated, but we are still pretty close to being a big and well-cooked stew.