By Abel Cruz

From the day we are born until the day we die, our lives are primarily defined by 2 identifying documents, our birth certificate, and our death certificate. Those are the only two documents that prove we are who we say we are and that we ceased to exist.   

Beyond our personal identity though, the one other identifying category that comes up frequently, almost daily, and could be even more important in our lives is our nationality and our race. 

Our nationality is our citizenship, we were born in this country and are United States citizens. Our race, on the other hand, is something that has been confusing us for years.

Why? Because over the years, we have been tagged with many different identities, not only by governmental institutions, but also by sales marketers, survey takers, researchers, census takers, and sometimes even ourselves. It is no wonder we often get confused. 

Here’s an interesting historical fact from the PEW Research Center, “The first census in 1790 had only three racial categories: free whites, all other free persons, and slaves.” By the time the1930 Census came about, the instruction to Census takers included how to describe people of color, “Neg” for Negro, and “Mex” for Mexican.  

Today, we have 2 ethnic choices on the Census, Hispanic or Latino. Research shows that the terms describe “A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.”

To confuse matters even more, race is thrown in there and historically, Mexican Americans have been considered to be white. But society in general does not see us as being white. Rather they see us as Hispanic or Latino, or Mexican or sometimes as illegal and not belonging here in America. They see us as we are portrayed in mediums like television, the news, social media, commercials, etc.  

And when we are portrayed in a negative light, that is how we are seen. Until they want to sell us something or a politician wants to attend our “Jamaicas” and ask for our vote.  

I mention all of this because our ethnic identity has played a much larger role in how we are viewed by government institutions, by marketers and advertisers trying to sell their products, by politicians, and media in general when reporting on issues like crime and other social issues. 

Take for example the term Mexican American. Mexican is a nationality, not a race, and so is American. The US Constitution says that nationality is obtained by which country you are born in. Being a Mexican American implies that we have dual nationality or dual citizenship since both terms identify nationality, but we know that is not the case.

So what are we to make of all of this labeling and why is it important to our daily lives? 

According to the Pew Research Center, “one’s skin color can shape opportunities and can be at the heart of discrimination experiences no matter what race one identifies with.” In other words, we may be white, but we are still seen as Mexican or “ethnic”. 

Our skin color is the first thing that others see when they see us. And their perception of us, based on what they have heard or seen in TV commercials, TV shows, or on the news often sets the tone for how we treat each other.  

I think back to my Lubbock High School history classes back in the early 70’s when the subject of race would come up. Discussions could get pretty heated. I still remember the lines used by some white students. The word “Mexican”, said in a derogatory manner, followed by some variation of, “well if you don’t like the way you are treated here, why don’t you go back to Mexico”. The assumption always was that we had come from Mexico and were not born in this country at all. 

Labels are about power, and who controls the power. Slave owners labeled their slaves as property, they were viewed as property within the legal system and could be treated inhumanely. American Indians, the only real Americans I guess we could say, were labeled as savages and redskins, among other names. Mexican laborers were labeled “peons” and illegal aliens. If you google the word peon, you will find this definition, among others: “A Spanish American day laborer or unskilled farm worker”. So being a farm worker takes no skill? The implication being, you have no skills, so all you are good for is farm work. Sadly, some people believed that. 

All these labels became part of our culture, part of America’s DNA. To this day, American Indians are still fighting to remove the derogatory names they have been labeled with.   

Labels have always been about one group controlling the other, demeaning the other, and making that group feel inferior. The term “Mexican American” was first introduced right after 1848 at the end of the Mexican American War and has stuck with us to this day. The conquerors got to label the conquered. 

Now here’s some food for thought, have you ever wondered why they made sure that the word Mexican came first, and why the label is not “American Mexican”?  

That’s a question we’ll try to explore in a future column when we meet again on the pages of this newspaper. Thanks for reading. 

Hasta la proxima!

Our Common Bonds is an opinion and commentary column written by Abel Cruz. He is a freelance writer, and the opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Hola Texas, its Publisher, Advertisers, or anyone else associated with Hola Texas. All material is copyrighted and may not be used without the writer’s permission.

The writer can be contacted via email at commonbonds@outlook.com

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