THINKING LATINA with SARA INÉS CALDERON 6.10.12

Why I Feel Kinship With Other Latinos.

I’m a pocha who grew up in LA with family from Texas who speaks Spanish I learned between Monterrey and the South Texas border. If you were to put me into a cultural category by myself, I doubt I’d have a lot of company. But, for whatever reason, for most of my life, I seem to get on splendidly with the children of Salvadoran and Mexican immigrants — although I cannot honestly say we share many of the same experiences. Even when I’ve found myself amongst Argentines or Puerto Ricans or Cubans, there always seems to exist an immediate kinship.

I’ve heard accusations that Latinos grouping together is a racist phenomenon, but I demand to differ. There’s a lot more to it than the fact that we all have Hispanic surnames. It’s not as simplistic as speaking the same language or sharing a similar history, because the fact is I can barely understand other Latinos’ Spanish sometimes and I can’t seem to get any food down without adding chile. Rather, the thing that I personally feel I can share with the cacophony of Latinos I’ve encountered in my life is just a little bit more understanding a little quicker than I get from other folks.

Although the Argentines I once prepared quesadillas and chile for looked at my food strangely, asking if the two went together, at least they knew that tortillas weren’t a strange thing to eat. I always joke that Mexicans dance cumbia to everything — even salsa music — but the Caribbean folks I’ve met have never begrudged me for my lack of dancing finesse. My Salvadoran friends don’t always understand the culturally Mexican words that I use, but they have the patience to figure them out from the context of the words, and the grace to give me chile to put on their pupusas.

For me, the connection I feel to other Latinos is based on an implicit understanding that our cultures are both valid — even if they are different. That feeling extends to the Spanish we do (or don’t) speak, the foods we may share, the particular cultural habits we might have in common or the geographic places we occupy. It’s a feeling not as easily shared with others who have not been exposed to Spanish (however close to Spanglish it may be), or the worship of beans, or the quotidian occurrence of speaking loudly, to name a few examples.

So, in a sense, with other Latinos it’s easier to find the most common human denominator than with other groups, which isn’t to say that a similar process can’t take place with non-Latinos. I grew up with Filipino immigrants and have a special place in my heart for their culture and running into “Latinophile” whites in Texas (who often speak Spanish) always warms my heart, for example. That social affinity, it turns out, has a lot less to do with racism or ethnocentrism, than it does with finding the quickest route to understanding others’ human experience.

Copyright 2012 Sara Inés Calderon