Are Hispanic-Americans “Hispanic” or “American” First?

Before we blog another word, let’s pause and send our prayers, well wishes and support to the earthquake victims in Haiti.  The endless stream of haunting images coming out of Haiti reminds us of our good fortune here in the United States.  I hope we’re all compelled to move swiftly and compassionately to the extent each and every one of our means allows.  To donate to Haiti via UNICEF, please click here.

As for the pilot entry of Born Bicultural USA entitled, “I’m Not Black, I’m Hispanic” I thank all of those who visited, read, critiqued and commented on this initial effort.  Your participation affirms that this topic and platform are viable.  I encourage your continued support.  I wouldn’t be a marketer if I didn’t ask you to “tell-a-friend” to stop by and visit as well.  Again, thank you.

Now on to the subject of this post…

Are Hispanic-Americans “Hispanic” or “American” First?

No sé.  I mean, I’m not sure.

I suspect the answer to this questions varies based on an entire set of factors which usually are influenced by your: (1) length of time in the U.S. / generational association, (2) geographic location, and (3) family conditioning.

Length of Time in the U.S.

In my observation, there’s a relationship between length of time in the U.S. and one’s inclination to claim “Hispanic” over “American” and vice versa.  Generally, the further removed a Hispanic-American is from their ancestor’s immigration experience, the more likely that Hispanic-American is to claim American ahead of Hispanic.  The opposite also holds true, in my observation.  There are exceptions, like my New Yorican brothers and sisters who represent Puerto Rico to the fullest, even after many generations in The States.  Also, Miami-Cubans, more than most on average, maintain such a Cuban-dominant orientation that the “American” part is often overshadowed.

Geographic Location

The denser the concentration of Hispanics in any given region, the more likely that Hispanic-American group is to claim their Hispanic identity ahead of their American identity.  In my experience, Miami is the Mecca in the U.S. for Hispanic identity (I suspect I’ll get some blowback on that one for having an East Coast biased from my brothers and sisters on the “Left Coast” – For the Record, I love the West Side too).  As I interact with my Hispanic-American friends and family in markets where the concentration of Hispanic-American is not as pronounced as in cities like Miami, I encounter a different experience – an experience that has much more of the mainstream American norms present.

Family Conditioning

Our first education is the one we receive at home.  To the degree our families conditioned us to believe we’re either “Hispanic First” or “American First” we largely carry on those beliefs into our adult lives and pass on these attitudes to our children.

My Take:

As a bicultural, I often find myself defending whichever culture or nationality is being attacked.  If I hear non-Hispanic Americans targeting Hispanics negatively, my Hispanic sensibilities are set-off and I’m inclined to defend the Hispanic position.  The converse holds true as well.  As a former member of the United States Air Force and self-identified “patriot” I respond respectfully but definitively when non-Hispanic American ideals are attacked by my Hispanic brothers and sisters.

In Miami, I encounter a relatively high number of age peers who are immigrants or first generation Hispanics who unforgivingly and proudly align their attitudes, ideology and behaviors to that of their home country.  Generally, that’s fine with me.  However, from this group, on occasion, I encounter comments or attitudes that are soo one-sided in favor of their home country at the expense of the United States, that I’m offended.  In retrospect, I wonder if my state of offense stems from a jealousy that these immigrants have such a strong “country pride” orientation and I see soo little “Proud to be American” types in Miami.  It’s much more popular to proclaim “Proud to be (enter any other country of origin not named the USA)”. While I try to figure out if my fundamental issue is jealousy or something else, Born Bicultural USA would like to hear your take.

As for my formula for answering this question, here’s one way to look at it.  I pledge allegiance first to the only country that has a constitutional claim to place me physically in harm’s way (via military draft).  Based on this formula, the only country legally allowed to force a uniform on my person is the United States of America; therefore, I’m American first (but not only).  This is not to imply I’m not uber-proud of my family’s Hispanic heritage because I am.  Say something silly about Cuba’s music legend Celia Cruz in front of me and prepare to be confronted.  Ultimately, I don’t believe this question is a zero-sum equation, but rather a matter of degrees and priorities.  I am no less proud to be Hispanic when chanting USA nor any less proud to be American when I am dancing Cuban salsa.  I guess that’s what makes us bicultural.

Like many of the topics tackled by Born Bicultural USA, they are thorny, complicated and subject to change as we learn from each other’s perspective.   I look fwd to learning from yours.

Sincerely,

Alberto Padron

Born Bicultural USA

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8 comments

  1. This is an interesting subject – definitively thought provoking.
    I am one of those foreigners that speak of their homeland with a little too much enthusiasm, but always respectful of the country I’m in and the different cultures I encounter.  This is natural – we are far from our home, the place where we grew up and fostered our happiest memories. My theory is that generally speaking, whatever country hosts you from age 10 to 18 is where your heart will always be. I lived in Brazil until age 6, in Uruguay till age 17 and in the US since. I have therefore lived here longer but my loyalty remains in Uruguay because my personality was formed there. My first bonds of friendship and love… Too many experiences and too much history.  I have always seen my stay here as temporary, like I was invited for a visit, an observer, and I think for those of us that move here it’s hard to shake that off because we are often reminded that this is not our land by things like lengthy and tedious immigration processes, being unable to vote, etc. I have been living here for more than 10 years and I still am not elegible to vote or become a citizen, however my uncle moved to Spain and two years later became a citizen. Had I felt more welcomed maybe I would feel more at ease about calling this country home but I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable most of my stay.
    It is natural for people to idealize and speak with nostalgy and admiration about things they miss.  this applies to everything – your childhood, the cookies your great grandma used to prepare (which really were nothing special but you remember as the best cookies in the world), that sweater that shrank but used to be the BEST SWEATER EVERRRR!!!  This is how we remember our homeland, foggy, with selective memory, forgetting its flaws and just focusing on all the good things we experienced.
    But like I said, although I defend my choice to love Uruguay wholeheartedly and while I defend their way of life, public education and medicine, I respect the country I’m in and recognize that just like my Uruguay it has many strengths and many weaknesses. Both are flawed and different and I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, all I can say is that one suits me better, partly for purely sentimental reasons. This courtesy, the courtesy of recognizing the strengths of both worlds I live in is usually not extended to me. This is a country which’s slogan is ‘the greatest nation on earth’ which I have heard over and over again and have had to endure people saying it to me which I honestly find to be ignorant and offensive. I wish everybody could recognize there is no absolute, no holly land. We are all just people living in a pretty messed up world.  When we are confronted with this attitude continuously, it does make us aprehensive and more defensive about our land, so I would say, probably the extremist sentiment you encounter from expats is in part nostalgy and in part reactive to the extremist sentiment we encounter when we move here.

  2. Gaby,

    I’m soo happy you decided to deposit your thoughts on this blog. Your entire post is an education. It reveals that no matter the author of the sentiment, the fundamental driver of our opinions are just that, sentiments and feelings, usually comprised of hand-picked memories that please us while minimizing those aspects of our respective countries we’d rather not spend too much time highlighting. Like most things, it’s a matter of perspective and context. Like I wrote in my original post, I find that as a country, not nearly enough people are “Proud to be American.” Too often, the few examples of public displays of affection for the US are shown within the context of extremist groups who embrace a notion of a “pure” America that is unwelcoming of the racial and ethnic diversity that defines what the US is supposed to be all about. Because of these extremist attitudes, when a Hispanic-American like myself proclaims “Proud to be American” it sounds off key, out of tune, weird and charges of “arrepentido” from my Hispanic brothers and sisters start to emerge. Conversely, when I travel abroad, Italians are expected to be Proud to be Italian – same holds true for Spaniards, Dominicans and just about any other country I can think of. Gaby, do you not notice a higher degree of nationalism or country pride in other countries than you do from post-first generation Americans in the US?

    As for your point regarding your country of residence during the ages of 10 and 18 playing a major role as to which country you proclaim as your own, I agree. I would add that the in-home culture you experienced during that same time frame also plays a significant role. When both the country of residence and in-home culture are the same, it’s less complicated. However in m case, my in-home culture was Cuban and the country culture was the United States. As such, I have nostalgic thoughts that made me fall in love with both mi musica Latina and other Cuban customs while also recalling fondly my U.S. centric childhood. I guess that’s what makes us bicultural.

    Gaby, thank you for such a balanced and candid account of your take on this complicated and sensitive subject. I hope you come back to Born Bicultural USA to add your voice, take in the voice of others and keep us all honest.

    Un abrazo amiga.

    Sincerely,

    Alberto Padron
    Born Bicultural USA

  3. Good topic Alberto,
    I’ll have a few responses to this ass they come to mind. My initial and most deep-seeded one is that I hate all the hyphenated american labels. all of them. They are qualifiers to my Americanness. Unless your going to hyphenate everyone, stop hyphenating people of color. Ever notice how its mostly people of color that get qualifiers?

    I am a 100% American, my father is buried in Arlington Cemetery yet I a in a different category “Americaness”. I am incredibly proud of my roots, much of life has been spent advocating for the Hispanic community. As you know I have been the publisher of several Spanish-language newspapers.

    That being said, I can be Spanish-speaking and still be called just American. 100% American. The founding fathers didnt put an english-only requirement in the constitution.

  4. Julio,

    Your voice is always welcomed here. Thank you for your honest input.

    As for that darn troublesome little hyphen, I understand where you’re coming from. When we’re alive, the hyphen attempts to define our identity via hyphenated labels. And when we pass away, that hyphen represents our entire existence on earth – the tombstone reads, “lived from 19XX – 20XX”. Wouldn’t the world be a better place without the hyphen?

    Julio, you lived in Miami, Upstate NY and Southern Cal. In two out of three, the Hispanic population is rather dense (Miami and Southern Cal). However, in the case of Upstate NY, the Hispanic population isn’t as large or concentrated as it is in the other two locations, correct? How was your experience relative to race, color and culture different from one location to the other?

    In my experience, the incidence of hyphenated labels is pronounced when I’m in areas where the presence of Hispanics is low. My Hispanicity is undeniable nor do I attempt to disguise it. It’s reflected in my name, color, hair, speech, etc. And although I’m a proud American, when I’m in a space where I’m grossly outnumbered by non-Hispanics, my awareness of my Hispanicity is aroused and the inescapability of my hyphenated existence simply cannot be ignored. I’ve chosen to embrace it, celebrate it and educate those who demonstrate a healthy curiosity to learn more about us, dare I write it, Hispanic-Americans.

    I agree that the hyphenation can be annoying, depending on the context, but I’m not sure if a hyphenation free America is possible. Since most of us are, to varying extents, descendants of elsewhere, our differences will continue to be celebrated by some and denounced by others. Whether I’m being labeled or I’m labeling myself Hispanic-American, how I feel about it depends on the context in which the term is being used. In the end, for me, it’s not about the hyphenated label but the context and intent in which it is used.

    I suspect you disagree based on your first post and that’s perfectly ok. After all, free speech is part of what makes us American – or is that Hispanic-American? As always, Born Bicultural USA welcomes this dialogue on diversity in America.

    Sincerely,

    Alberto Padron
    Born Bicultural USA

  5. If I have my facts right there were no Hispanic Americans before the 60’s. It was not until the US Government started to classify all minorities that that we appeared. As to Hispanic American or American I feel that if you are naturalized then you are truly a Hispanic American. All others if born in the US I feel are Americans of Hispanic descent which to me really defines a culture.

    We all should remember that being Hispanic is a culture and not a language and neither is it a color. We should protect this ethnicity as well as our American heritage.

  6. Hi Allan,

    Nice to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by. Your opinions are valued here.

    Please elaborate on the following. You state:

    If born outside the U.S and naturalized in the U.S. = Hispanic-American
    If born in the U.S. of Hispanic descent = Americans of Hispanic Descent

    Both have cultural implications. In your opinion, are both editions of Hispanic the same or different culturally? Why?

    Looking fwd to your continued participation. Thanks again Allan.

    Sincerely,

    Alberto Padron
    Born Bicultural USA

  7. Alberto,

    What a great question. The answer depends on acceptance of my premise: the decision to relocate to the USA is usually politically motivated and not culturally motivated. By political I mean:
    Politics
    Economical
    Religious
    Education
    made us decide to leave our countries. But in my opinion no one leaves because of culture.

    Americas oh Hispanic Descent have made no such choice. Politically they are American as they generally follow the educational format of the USA (Anglo/Saxon), the political format, the legal format as well as the social format. But this is political not cultural.

    If we define culture as a set of common values and customs. ( I know this is very general). Then Americans of Hispanic descent are Hispanic because they share the same values and customs that we share as Hispanics.
    If we are saying you are more Hispanic because you are Colombian vs. other Hispanic nationalities. To me this is more of a political definition vs. cultural. I have come a long way around to say that Americans of Hispanic descent are are Hispanic, just a different Hispanic as are Colombians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Mexicans.

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