Lost in Latinidad

 

The Puerto Rican Student Association on campus aims to peel back the layers of the Latinx identity, commonly misconstrued as a racial one.

 
Illustration by  Amy Nakamura

Illustration by Amy Nakamura

 

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Christian Andino Borrero was taught that being Puerto Rican meant being white, native and black. “We are [of] African [descent], we are of Spanish [and European] descent, we are of native descent,” says Andino Borrero, the Philanthropy Chair for the Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA).

Lucha: the Spanish word for “fight, struggle”

Chicanx: of or relating to Mexican Americans or their culture

He is leading the organization’s latest initiative, a Latinx identity campaign celebrating Latinidad as it is: a mixture of races and cultures. The idea came from a conversation between PRSA members Amber Fernandez and Karina Mendez about the Latinx misrepresentation on campus.

Mendez says that people can have a difficult time understanding the Latinx identity, especially when they don’t see certain physical features traditionally associated with the culture or if they hear the person speak perfect English, for instance.

The campaign will highlight Latinas this semester along with women’s rights issues as the idea sprang up during Women’s History Month, but PRSA is planning on a second edition of the campaign on men.

Hearing statements like “You’re too black to be Puerto Rican” or “You look too white to be Puerto Rican” initially came as a shock to Andino Borrero. Puerto Rico is the only territory under Spanish colonial possession that never gained its independence, but, as a result of that history, it’s a land of mixed ethnicities. Indigenous Taínos Indians inhabited the island before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. Four decades of Spanish rule brought an influx of West African slaves to meet a growing demand for labor and Europeans settlers migrated there to capitalize on slavery and free land.

“Puerto Rico has never been its own country,” says Andino Borrero. What endured after the conquest of the Spanish, African slavery and the colonization of the natives was “this shared experience that then formed this ethnic identity and cultural identity that is Puerto Rico, and it becomes a national identity as well.”

Latinxa gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent

Latinidad: a Spanish-language term that refers to the various attributes shared by Latin American people and their descendants without reducing those similarities to any single essential trait

The 2018 US Census showed that 99 percent of Puerto Ricans identified themselves as “Hispanic or Latino.” However, the report also noted that “Hispanics and Latinos may be of any race” and considers “race and Hispanic origin to be two separate and distinct concepts.” The ethnic identity doesn’t entail a specific race but does correlate with the racial identity.

The campaign hopes to collaborate with other Hispanic and Latinx communities on campus such as La LUCHA (the Latinx Undergraduates Creating History in America), Dominican Student Association and Chicanx students in a photoshoot reflecting the distinct looks of students self-identifying as Latinx.

“It is a mixture of cultures; it is a mixture of races. It’s not a set race; it’s not a set color,” says Andino Borrero, “We don’t want to literally define Latinidad for everyone.”

Andino Borrero says that many people in Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries grow up seeing their blackness as part of the Latinx identity. How identity is perceived in the continuous U.S. can be very different, and when Latinidad is equated to a racial identity, part of the Latinx identity is lost or separated.

“It’s a way of education, you could say,” Andino Borrero says, considering it to be one of the goals of this campaign. For Puerto Ricans, the Latinx identity formed slowly and it formed with the mix of races and the intertwining of experiences.

“It’s a weird thing for you to question someone’s identity,” says Andino Borrero. He says that there’s the sentiment of “Why are you concluding things about my identity,” when people have a certain image of Latinidad, like the way they perceive Jennifer Lopez and impose that particular image on others.

If the Latinx identity is not associated with any particular race, what does it look like? What are its skin colors, hair textures, body shapes and facial features? The question seems to answer itself.

 

Editor-in-chief Jiaman (Maggie) Peng, a sophomore advertising student at Syracuse University, wants to highlight the extraordinary in the seemingly mundane through telling stories of identities and by making sense of them.