BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The United States is so rich in diversity with people from all over the world including Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, Central, and South America that some may find it easier to group all of these individuals into one. While it may seem easier it does not mean it is accurate.
Throughout generations, people have traced their heritage back to these countries break apart and begin self-identifying through various terms like Chicano, Hispanic, Latin, and Latinx or even Indigenous.
A lot of people are often confronted with the question of “what am I?”, sometimes as early as elementary school and the answers can be complex.
The truth is nobody fits into one box, everyone comes in different shapes, sizes, skin tones, orientations, and ideologies which has led to the creation of terms that feel more authentic.
“My name is Shanara Cruz-Wilson and I identify as Latina,” said Shanara Cruz-Wilson studio artist
“Jorge Moraga, I identify as Salvadorian American with a Chicano, Chicana, Chicanx political consciousness,” said Dr. Jorge Moraga, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at CSUB.
“My name is Edith Mata, and I am an Indigenous person,” said Edith Mata, a Bakersfield community member.
These are just a few of the many terms used to self-identify within the greater community.
Moraga with CSUB explained some of these terms like Hispanic or Latino are made to serve as an umbrella for all people of 33 Latin American countries plus Spain.
“Hispano and Hispanic was in many ways imposed on everyone in the 1970s. So, it becomes a bit more difficult to tease out what exactly we mean when we say Hispano vs what we mean when we say any nationally based group or the other pan-ethnic terms like Latino Latina Latinx,” said Moraga.
He explained the difference researchers have found is the connection of the term Hispanic with Spanish colonialism versus the term Latino which is more descriptive of U.S colonialism.
Regardless, that one-size-fits-all does not sit well with everyone.
Mata has begun the process of leaning to her roots through language and dance like this one.
“They want to say who you are. They want to say no you are Hispanic because you look Hispanic, but in reality, it is like I am an Indigenous person,” said Mata.
For Mata, education has been key in her process of self-identity.
“Learning about MesoAmerican history, where my ancestors come from, which mine are Mayan and Mexica,” said Mata.
She added that she knows not everyone will understand her decision but said she has found liberation and peace in claiming this identity.
All three agreed that one word cannot represent 34 countries when each region brings a different set of traditions and values.
Even within the U.S, some have adopted different identities based on location.
Tejano for those in Texas, Nuyorican for Puerto Ricans in New York.
There are even broader terms to nationality based on terms like Chicano which began as a social and political movement in the 60s used to identify people of Mexican descent born or living across the United States.
Chicano has now also grown to include Chicanx which similar to Latinx is a way to also include the LGBTQ community by making the terms gender-neutral.
However, some like Cruz-Wilson who is of Salvadorian descent embrace terms like Hispanic and Latina as a way to stand united with all the different cultures.
She recalls first hearing and not really questioning the term Hispanic while growing up watching Spanish news with her grandma.
“I didn’t really start to think about it a whole bunch until I grew and realized, hey I am a lot browner. And sometimes I get put into a whole different box,” said Cruz-Wilson.
She added people are often surprised when she speaks Spanish or want to assume she is Mexican.
“To me, it kinda makes me sad, like there is a lot of African descendant people who live in Honduras, Puerto Rico, Cuba, that speaks Spanish. That is their native tongue, but if you are from here they might question you like woah,” said Cruz-Wilson.
Cruz-Wilson said the beautiful thing about Latinos is everyone can all look different but still have that sense of kinship.
For Moraga, there is no right or wrong answer.
“You know call yourself what you want, Hispano, Latina, Chicana, Latinx, Latin, as long as your values and your sense of worth are resonated in that term,” said Moraga.
Moraga added these self-identities change from generation to generation. For example, Latinx is still not fully accepted by everyone but is slowly gaining traction and today is considered one of the more inclusive terms.
The bottom line is finding a term you connect with and that gives you pride in your heritage is up to you.