As we celebrate Latino Heritage Month, it is well to remember that the Latino community is living in a period of crisis that will continue its aggravating consequences until demographic dynamics dictate otherwise. Meanwhile, it is imperative that the community continues to honor Latino immigrant heritage that has done so much to energize identity in the culture and reinvigorate the ethic of hard work and “ganas.”
It is the respect for American immigrant roots that can lead to respect for our ethnic and racial differences now absent in President Trumps attack on Black NFL players for exercising their Constitutional right to take a knee. Besides, not standing up for the national anthem pales in comparison to his cowardly military draft-dodging and unwillingness to put his life on the line for America in Vietnam when it really counted.
American immigrant heritage has had a rough time from its beginning. Since the arrival of Spanish Conquistadores and Northern European settlers, unwelcome and unwanted by native populations, the immigrant has fought an uphill battle for a better life and has been largely successful in establishing a new order in what was for this character, a new world.
One of the results of the Spanish coming to America was the creation of a new Mestizo DNA that has effectively changed the history of the Americas. The Spanish, arriving without women established a blood and cultural European-Indian union that became the basis for a new person unique to two civilizations.
Added to this emerging Mestizo world were Africans and Asians that came or were brought to the Americas and later largely disappeared into this true melting-pot reality. Initially as outcasts that broke the taboos of racial purity, this population slowly moved from the fringes of accepted society and during a 300-year journey organized the foundation for mainstream dominance in the Spanish-speaking world.
Although increasingly more powerful politically, the Mestizo had spent most of the Colonial Latin American history trying to overcome second-class citizenship and when called upon to lead the independence movements in the beginning of the 19th Century, the lack of leadership experience and tradition showed. It took another 100 years for this population to find its footing and create the modern states.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 served to surface a new racial concept advanced by Jose Vasconcelos called “la raza cosmica,” that in essence, represents a fifth entity made-up of the 4 existing races in the world. La Raza concept rings in what a Mestizo truly is: a global being representing everyman.
When the Chicano Movement appropriated the term, it amplified what was already in general use to identify a Chicano or Latino today. The politicizing of the term by both activists and critics has served to obscure its noble meaning.
Yet if one really thinks about it, the term is anticipating a very vibrant future and reality. At the present, the Latino community is in a race to become a demographic plurality by the end of this century.
I have come to understand that the coming Latino majority may not exactly resemble the Latino minority of today. Rather, it may very well look like Vasconcelo’s original concept of an all-encompassing being represented by all the races in the world.
“Raza” as an extension of Vasconcelos’ “Raza Cosmica” is a concept with unifying attributes that are so desperately needed in a new America. Leadership begins with words and the concept of “la raza” is a term that ought to be recognized, celebrated and honored for its positive vision.