In Barcelona, Spain, while speaking with friends over lunch at a communal picnic table – switching from Spanish to English and back again – I heard the woman in the family sitting next to us say, in a whispered voice, “son Latin@s.” She was referring to us, of course, answering what seemed to be a confused query from her partner about who or what we were. The term “Latino” has most definitely taken hold here to describe Latin American immigrants and their children, and it seems that just as in the U.S. it reflects a growing demographic that is welcomed by many and feared by some.
Both Madrid and Barcelona have significant Latin@ populations and neighborhoods which have begun to appear in contemporary Spanish visual culture. The recent, very popular telenovela in the U.S. La Reina del Sur seems to acknowledge the issue of Mexican migration to Spain in the story of its protagonist Teresa, who flees drug violence in Mexico only to become an international drug smuggler herself in Spain. Latin@s in Spain come from many different Latin American countries and some do have ties to U.S. Latin@s, making the Latin@ connection global. As my colleague Dr. Miroslava Chávez-Garcia notes, the globalization of Latin@s has its down side: Latin@s and gangs are often linked in the popular discourse of both the U.S. and Spain. However, Spanish scholars Dr. and Prof. Carme Panchón Iglesias and Prof. Isaac Ravetllat Ballesté of the University of Barcelona suggest that Barcelona and Catalonia’s unique history and experience as a bilingual, bicultural people suggests that it may be well-equipped to create from these demographic and cultural shifts a society where difference is valued, where culture and language is shared rather than imposed, a society where inclusion and integration rather than assimilation predominates. If Catalonia is a particularly apt place for enacting that vision, let’s hope it spreads far beyond the borders of this region.
For many years, I have employed the pan-ethnic label “Latino” or “Latina” to refer to citizens of the U.S. who are Mexican American, Puerto Rican or of Latin American background. The term also generally refers to permanent residents of the U.S. from Latin American backgrounds, though individuals in this latter group often retain their identities as Latin Americans and prefer to be known as Latin Americans rather than Latin@s, making it important to distinguish between Latin American and Latin@s. My understanding has been the same as that of Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Mariela Paez, who suggest in Latinos Remaking America that Latin@s are “made in the U.S.A.” However, “Latin@” is no longer only a U.S. identity, as this recent experience revealed to me.
What research or leisure travel are you doing this summer? What is the Latin@ experience you have or are encountering in your travels? How are Latin@s seen and understood where you are?
Theresa Delgadillo is on the faculty of Ohio State University and serves as Chair Elect of MALCS and Co-Moderator of Mujeres Talk.