Being Cuban does not make us ‘Latin’

The use of “Latin” for people south of the US-Mexico border was always questionable. It began in the 19th century (after Spain lost most of its colonies) as a French intellectual idea picked up by South Americans in the 1850s. The basis was the use of Romance languages derived from Latin in the region and the corresponding cultures derived from European colonizers (though this ignored the huge indigenous element with little if any European DNA or cultural identity). The idea was to cut Spain out of the picture and differentiate the region and its people from Anglo-America. In the 1860s, the term was popularized by France due to its ill-fated colonial ambitions in the area, as a way to legitimize a French presence (since Spain was out of the game and Anglo-America was seen as alien). 

Strictly speaking, Latins were the people of Latium, the region of ancient Rome, which may fit “His Holiness” Bergoglio but not Evo Morales. True, the term is not supposed to be racial, since “Latins” can be of any race, but it still feels arbitrary and pasted on, especially for indigenous people–who definitely did not come up with it, and whose ideas on the matter were either not considered or considered irrelevant. It has become firmly established through long general use, which may be mindless and based on habit and convenience, as well as based on sociopolitical ideology and goals. However, now that everything is apparently based on how people identify and what they do and do not want to be called or seen as, such a generalized and generic label becomes more questionable than ever.

I don’t want to get into “Latino/a” usage, let alone the contrived “Latinx,” which I consider a crassly disrespectful imposition–and I have visceral contempt for its use as virtue signaling. So, my fellow Cubans, the time has come to be Cubans, Cuban Americans or, if you must, Hispanics, but not “Latins.” Actually, the term has far less currency in “Latin” America (where people typically identify by nationality) than in the US. Even apart from that, we have no obligation to accept that label, regardless of the opinion of “Latin” intellectuals, academics, political or media figures, activists, celebrities or others with their own agendas, let alone non-“Latins” with theirs, especially the profoundly presumptuous and perverse usual suspects. We should not consent to fit into boxes made for their benefit, not ours.

But why should we opt out? Does it really matter? Well, our dignity matters, and so should our self-respect. Nobody is entitled to pin their label on us without our agreement, particularly if there is any ulterior motive. More to the point, and a highly significant point, how has the “Latin” world treated Cubans and their national tragedy? How has it behaved towards the malignant entity that has devastated their country and enslaved its people, dictating and oppressing their lives for decades? Have “Latins” been indifferent, or rather supportive of and complicit with Cuba’s cancer? What do “Latins” have to do with us and our aspirations and beliefs? What have they done for us compared to against us? Are they not, in many ways, alien to us? So why should we accept being of them or belonging to them?

Yes, there are honorable exceptions, but they are clearly a minority, and thus not the determining factor. Every fresh insult and betrayal (a virtually daily occurrence) is more disgusting and more repellent than the last. It’s been that way for ages, there’s no end to it, and “Latins” are even alleged to be our “brothers.” With “Latin” solidarity with Cuba being what it is, who needs enemies? And Cubans are still supposed to be “Latins” anyway? I don’t think so.

3 thoughts on “Being Cuban does not make us ‘Latin’”

  1. I agree with EVERYTHING you said. The problem is that the Chicanos have forcibly teamed us. Back in the 1970s, they petitioned the US Census to stop using national background to identify Hispanics for two reasons:

    A] Mexican American neighborhoods like East L.A.. were full of gangs and drive-by shooters. This was destroying their public image, so they petitioned the U.S. Census to stop using national background to identify Spanish speakers. Overnight we all became “Hispanics” [this would later change to the by far worse racialized “Latino”]. For them it was a public relations bonanza, since they could now hide their criminal proclivities, out-of-wedlock births and high dropout rates behind a label that gave them anonymity, for all other Hispanics it was a black eye as we were now grouped in with a community that was a total drain on society.

    B] Chicanos wanted to expand their presence in Washington. They could only do this if they could say that they spoke for not just Chicanos out West, but for Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans and other Central and South Americans in the Northeast.

    Tragically, the label is the gift that keeps on giving. It has, also, become a racial designation, so Cubans have been forced into a category of indigenous people that has nothing to do with us.

    • There are, of course, all sorts of ulterior motives behind using the “Latin” label, as there have been since at least the 1860s. That’s one reason not to play along with other people’s games.

  2. Cubans are what we are, and Lord knows we have plenty of issues and baggage. But, they need to be our issues and baggage, not those of aliens, particularly aliens whose collective behavior regarding Cuba has been and remains abominable. I find it demeaning and infra dig to accept being “Latin,” and I simply don’t.

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