News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The idea of a National Latino Museum stirs bigotry -- and demonstrates its need

The public comments to a recent New York Times editorial segment debating the need for a National Latino Museum quickly descended into predictable xenophobic diatribes. Here are just a few examples:

"'s inherently racist in and of itself, towards a mostly white population who rightly regard the immigration epidemic from south of the border as a national crisis. "

"Next someone will propose a museum to illegal immigrants."

"What have latinos done to contribute anything to the US. I'll tell you. Nothing, nada. They pour over our borders, pump their women full of new born babies who instantly become US citizens just because they were born here."

"...while there have been some contributions [by Latinos to U.S. society], they are not substantial enough to warrant any major mention within the whole."

"It is unfortunate that the majority of Hispanic contributions are in the area of pop culture."

Seeing the overt ignorance and bigotry toward Latinos in these comments (and in countless other venues) along with the confusing ideas of what "Hispanic" really means is ample evidence that we need a National Latino museum.

To begin with, Latino or Hispanic is not a race. In fact, it's an identity that exists solely within the borders of the United States. The only "official" definition of Hispanic is that of the U.S. Census Bureau. It clearly states Hispanics may be "persons of any race." Yet, every day the media carries reports that divide the U.S. into four quasi-racial categories: White, Black, Asian and Hispanic. Examining each of these in detail only underscores their absurdity.

White: People with similar phenotypes with origins from a vast number of countries speaking different languages

Hispanic: People with a vast variety of phenotypes with origins from Spanish-speaking countries

Asian: People with similar phenotypes from nations speaking different languages -- except for those from India who have completely different phenotypes but are still included as Asian.

Black: Anyone who has a single ancestor of Sub-Saharan African descent, regardless of any other ancestry -- except when the ancestor is from a Spanish-speaking nation, which then makes them Hispanic.

At one time, Jews, Irish, Italians and even Germans were considered "non-white" in North America. Today, all these groups have lost their outsider status and have been transformed into "whites".

If properly curated, a National Latino Museum would help dispel many of the myths surrounding the Hispanic identity and reduce mainstream fears of becoming a minority. We need to know more about who Hispanics really are -- not less. Because there is one fact we all agree on: The people labeled Latinos will soon be a significant portion of the United States.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez