Now that it’s common knowledge that Latinos are the country’s burgeoning ethnic group, and given that this group routinely identifies as white on the Census, it begs the question as to whether or not Latinos will go the way of the Irish and Italians. Will Latinos start self identifying as white, foregoing their culture or language, and remembering their heritage primarily via eagle and serpent tattoos on Cinco de Mayo?
Are Latinos the next group in the United States to begin to engage in “passing?”
We asked Professor William “Memo” Nericcio, Director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences program at San Diego State University that question. Nericcio routinely analyzes the intersection of popular culture and Latinos with his traveling exhibit, Mextasy, and said the answer to this question is not so simple. The short version, though, is “no.’
First, he gave us a little bit more context on the idea of “passing.”
“Passing is the idea that if you are the member of a minority, by coincidence of genetics of whatever, you can pass as a member of the majority,” he told NewsTaco, noting that the phrase was coined by the novel of the same name. “It’s like they are masked, they can pass as members of the majority so they are not subjected to discrimination.”
In the novel “Passing,” Nella Larsen describes the lives of two women who are of mixed race, and the repercussions that befall them when one chooses to “pass” as white, while the other lives her life as an African American.
Nericcio noted that this had occurred in his own life in a sense, given that he has a Sicilian last name, as well as Anglo first names. The idea of “passing” is that you get to “live a lie in order not to suffer what all of your brethren are suffering,” and this is something that is desirable for the quality of life it brings, he said.
Both myself and Nericcio reminisced over opportunities — given to genetics and our names — to “pass,” that were not taken for hard-to-determine cultural preferences. But that is for another post. Ultimately, he told us that, given the current state of politics in the U.S., it doesn’t necessarily “pay” to be Latino — “there’s no reward out there for bieng Mexican, so it’s in your interest to become generic.”
But, when it comes to Latinos in United States, Nericcio told us there is no way that passing is can become an indefinite trend.
“It’d be nice to get the target off of our heads for a decade, that we could be like the Irish and Italian, it really pays to pass and be mainstream,” he said. “But the difference between us and the Irish and Italians is that they came over in these giant waves, and we came from next door. The next time the economy is booming, there’s going to be another infusion. It’s that contiguity that will prevent permanent full-on passing for Latinos in this country.”
Plus, Latinos have a higher birth rate, he added. So, by immigration and birth rates, Latinos will continue to be a growing force in this country, preventing what could be the inevitable cultural dulling for this group in the U.S.