(Democratic Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images )

Opinion: Why a non-Latino should be in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke is what some Latinos would call a “gringo.” Representing the 16th Congressional District in Texas, which is about 80% Latino, Mr. O’Rourke is a fluent Spanish speaker of Irish descent and a fourth-generation Texan from El Paso.

But while there is little doubt that O’Rourke has adopted the Spanish heritage of his hometown as his own, as it stands right now, he could not be a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The CHC said bylaws are bylaws, and CHC members have to be of Hispanic descent.

O’Rourke’s segregation brings up interesting issues that will become more important for Latinos to consider as the country becomes more Hispanic. We often hear of the term “assimilation” as a process in which Latinos lose their cultural identity and become more “American.”

But identities are not static, nor should they be, and Latinos will have to confront the issue of cultural authenticity and how segregating identities into neat categories can have negative political consequences. As the country becomes more Hispanic, so will our leaders assimilate into our own contributions to American culture. That should be encouraged by Latinos.

As a Mexican-American who hardly speaks Spanish, I have been in a constant struggle to manage my identity as a person of Mexican descent born in a country dominated by an Anglo culture. Many Mexican-Americans have embraced an identity they call “Chicano,” but that never resonated with my experience, or my perceived desires at the time to be seen as American by others.

Instead, I was fond of the term “raza” to describe my competing identities. The term comes from and essay written by Jose Vasconcelos about a melding of all races around the world to create a new race. In English parlance, a melting pot, but with a Latino flavor. Contrary to what many think, the term is not racist, nor is it exclusive. The term is inclusive and optimistic about Latinos’ role in the cultural exchange with Anglo culture.

Mr. O’Rourke is a Democrat, and popular in his hometown. Having defeated the longtime incumbent and party favorite, Silvestre Reyes, in the primary, O’Rourke sailed to victory with a comfortable 65 percent of the vote against the Republican challenger, Barbara Carrasco.

O’Rourke is decidedly progressive on social issues and has been a vocal proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. As a councilman, he advocated city legislation discouraging cooperation with the anti-immigrant group, the Minutemen.

Congressman O’Rourke’s spokeswoman Mattie Muñoz told Texas on the Potomac on Thursday that O’Rourke has never expressed an interest in joining the caucus, which he understands only admits members of Hispanic heritage., and looks forward to working with them, especially on immigration reform. But in my opinion it’s a loss for the city of El Paso, and also for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The caucus is an influential group and Mr. O’Rourke’s active input into the caucus on matters important to Latinos would be beneficial to all involved.

As a border town, the immigration reform bill being considered by Congress would have a significant impact on El Paso by militarizing the border and perhaps changing the economic welfare of the city, which depends heavily on the flow of workers and families who cross over from Ciudad Juarez on a daily basis.

While Mr. O’Rourke cannot change his past, and of course should be proud of it, he should also be allowed to express his solidarity with his constituents and his identity. Mr. O’Rourke may not be Hispanic, he may not be Chicano, some may refer to him as a gringo, but he is certainly raza.

Opinion: Why a non Latino should be in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus stephen nuno nbc final e1370610376199 politics NBC Latino News

Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.

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