I am done.
Done with the engrained perception that U.S. Latinos are not “American enough,” that we are these foreign beings who all speak with accents, dance until 5 am, are loud, rambunctious and sexualized. For the record, it is safe to say that I don’t fit any of the previous stereotypes, although when I speak Spanish, my Puerto Rican accent is front and center.
Let me pause for a second and break this down.
We are talking about Pitbull, perhaps the most mainstream Latino pop star out there right now. The “Dale” guy whose music plays 24/7 at every dance club, health club and bad Top 40 station in the United States. You would think that of ALL the stars out there, many would even be questioning Pitbull’s Americanness? The guy shills Bud Light, people! How more American can you get?
Then there is this issue of the “Mexican” label, as if being Mexican means you are inferior, Third World and poor. That you aren’t good enough, that you are second-class. It is exactly what my friend Gustavo Arellano has been saying for years, like when he wrote the following in 2002 (2002!) about why popular culture in the U.S. continues to shun Mexican musical contributions: “The definers of Latin culture have decided that the most popular Latin music genre in the United States isn’t worthy of promotion because it might lead people to believe that Latinos are poor and culturally backward, not slick and ‘with it.'”
It is all connected. In the eyes of the mainstream, being Mexican is a sin, and what better way to insult someone on Twitter than to say that this isn’t the Mexican Music Awards but the American ones?
Not to get into a history lesson, but enough is enough.
I am done with the haters and the ignorants. This country is changing, and having an American-born music star of Cuban descent host a major music awards show in 2013 is yet the latest example of such a change. Either you start understanding how complex and rich it is to be a U.S. Latino in the 21st century, or you just get out of the way. I will even take away your smartphones, since part of this issue is to actually THINK before you TWEET.
But still, these examples keep coming up: Marc Anthony. Pitbull. That cute kid from San Antonio who got to sing the national anthem twice at the NBA Finals. You would think that fellow Latinos would get a bit more angrier about all this. Maybe, because right now even Pitbull is no longer seen by many as American.
However, I doubt it. The fight to educate other Americans about the Latino fabric is a tough one, especially when it is so entrenched in the psyche of so many in this country. For example, to share my own personal experiences, I can’t even begin to count the times when I was told that I spoke English so well (still happening to me in my forties) or that people didn’t think of a me as a Julio. What is that all supposed to mean? It is really inconceivable for people in this country to think that being a bicultural and bilingual citizen is actually an asset? Why is my Americanness questioned over others?
Someone actually wrote to me last week in an email to “go back to my own country.” Newsflash: this is my country, and I will never apologize to anyone when we expose ignorance about how people perceive Latinos living in the U.S—whether it is defending Pitbull (guess there’s a first time for everything), amplifying the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game at UT-Austin or calling out yet another “Border Patrol” party. These types of ignorance will never go away until more and more voices work together to make it go away.
U.S. Latinos are here to stay. Get used to it, and stop being afraid. We are actually very fun at parties. That’s a fact.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. In the past 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.