I'm half Brazilian, half American. Am I LatinX?
I am the product of two distinct cultures. My mother was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro and traced her family to Portugal. My father was born and raised in Minnesota, as a second generation descendant of immigrants from Switzerland. I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and when I arrived in Miami at age five I spoke only Spanish and Portuguese. My childhood for many years consisted of spending the school year in the U.S. and summer vacations in Brazil. Looking back, it was a wonderful, diverse, rich way to grow up. Americans speak English, and Brazilians speak Portuguese. I speak both. The U.S. has football, and Brazil has soccer. I watch both. The U.S. has Coca Cola, and Brazil’s signature soda is Guaraná. I love both. Each country has a unique history and heritage, and both belong to me.
But this raises a question, in an America obsessed with putting us all into rigid identity groups: Where do I belong? What am I?
Due to my appearance and immutable traits, I have been described as a “cis-gendered, heteronormative white male”—arguably the most privileged and simultaneously the most demonized group in America. As a result of this, I am considered implicitly and irredeemably racist. I am both a beneficiary and an abettor of white privilege. I am at the very top of the oppressor to oppressed scale.
But by birth, culture, and upbringing, I am at least 50% Brazilian. Where does that place me now? Considering the fact that Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in Central and South America, is “Brazilian” an identity category all its own? Am I Hispanic? Latino?
Or, am I “LatinX”?
In addition to being an attempt at gender neutrality—a pretty ambitious goal, considering that Spanish and Portuguese are languages in which everything is gendered—the term “LatinX” is also supposed to be “pan-ethnic.” This means that it encompasses all persons of Central and South America as well as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic into one happy, homogenous group. This inevitably leads to the assumption that persons from Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and all the other Spanish-speaking countries share the same ideals, goals, cultures, politics, and more.
Unrealistic? You decide. In August 2020, a bilingual Pew Research poll found that only one quarter of Hispanic or Latino persons in the U.S. had even heard of the term “LatinX,” and only 3% applied it to themselves. The majority of these are young, hip, women in the mold of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—the poster girl for the politics that led to the usage of “LatinX.”
Given the stated parameters, however, and despite my immutable characteristics, I can apparently make the claim that, due to my Brazilian heritage, I too am LatinX. I certainly have more right to this than Elizabeth Warren does to being Cherokee, or Rachel Dolezal does to being black. The idea that I would, could, or should claim membership into an underrepresented minority in order to gain some advantage—such as when applying to medical school—never even occurred to me, but should it? Should I define myself by an accident of birth? Should the markers, “white, male, Brazilian-American, and heterosexual” encompass who I am? Does it serve any useful purpose other than divide society into those like me and those who are not? Should I encourage my kids to claim their legitimate, one-quarter LatinX status for their advantage? Would the benefits outweigh the costs?
I don’t think so. My wife and I raised our children the same way my parents raised me. We were never taught to regard ourselves as better or worse than anyone else by virtue of things we had no control over. Although it was never explicitly stated, we were brought up with the belief that all people are of equal worth, regardless of their sex, race, gender, or other immutable characteristics. My mother, although forever proud of her Brazilian heritage, loved this country for its egalitarian nature and chose to become a naturalized American citizen as a result.
So where do I belong? What am I? Well, it depends who you ask. To me, I’m still that same kid who grew up in a mix of different cultures and contexts. I liked that upbringing. I don’t think I fit neatly into any rigid identity group, and I don’t think I should. None of us should. I never used to think in terms of race, sex, or ethnicity in choosing my friends, in judging people I met throughout my life, or in my professional colleagues. Now, thanks to the push for identity politics, group identity, and judging people by their immutable characteristics, I think of little else.
Is this progress? I think not.
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