Zimmerman, Wetbacks and Being Latino in the U.S.

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco

If George Zimmerman wants to downplay his Latino side, so be it.

We wouldn’t know about it if not for his notoriety. We wouldn’t care if he were George “who?” If he were just another random son of a Peruvian immigrant we’d grant him the option to self-identify as a Latino, or not, or Peruvian-American, or Hispanic, or whatever suited his personal point of view.

Isn’t that the the prevailing U.S. Latino view? “Don’t label me, let me identify as I please. Don’t push the Hispanic label on me – I’m not from Europe. Don’t call me Latino – I don’t speak a dead language.”  A stack of surveys have concluded that U.S. Latinos would rather identify with national origin – Cubano, Mexicano, Salvadoreño …

So we can’t have it both ways.

We can’t demand self-identification and in the same breath criticize another Latino (or half-Latino) for doing exactly that, even if we believe he did it to save his skin in a murder trial.

Because if we do that, if we rhetorically limit a Latino’s option to deny his Latino-ness, then we have no ground to defend other Latino’s when they’re attacked in public – as were Joaquin and Julian Castro when Twitter user Cody Miller, who goes by the handle @nickelsizehail, called them “wetbacks.”

The problem is in the nuance. 

The rhetorical defense of a U.S. Latino’s right to self-identify is not a defense of George Zimmerman, or of his actions. Either we believe that Latinos should self-identify, or we don’t, period. We can’t cherry-pick who get’s the option and who doesn’t

This is the kind of stuff that drives marketers and political strategists crazy.  From a market point of view things would be much easier if Latinos would just make up their minds and be a homologous group. And because we don’t, they invent a group that represents Latinos and give it a name – “Hispanic” is the prevailing market nomenclature. Politicians like it too. It’s tidy and it fits voting trend matrices.

And it’s fine, and it’s dandy. The market call us one thing, we’d rather be called something else. And everyone knows where everyone stands. We don’t like it, but we know the rhythms of the dance. ‘Till a half-Peruvian neighborhood patrol guy named Zimmerman shoots and kills a defenseless black teenager in Florida. Or ’till an overzealous and under-edited Twitter user calls two prominent Mexican-American politicians “wetbaks.”

Then it’s not so dandy. Because you can’t defend one and attack the other.

[Photo by DonkeyHotey]

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