By Juan Tornoe
For practical reasons, let’s begin defining the term Latino or Hispanic, which at the end of the day identify the same group of people. Latinos/Hispanics are those individuals living in the U.S. that somewhere in their past have roots South of the Rio Grande or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. All the latter can be described as Latin American.
Immediately you can begin to notice the distinction. The primary difference between Hispanics and Latin Americans is where they live.
At first sight, this does not seem to make such a drastic difference among the two groups. But by digging a bit deeper you will come to the realization of how important it is to differentiate among them. By living in the United States and going through a process of acculturation (the preservation of one’s birth culture and the addition of another culture) and/or assimilation (the replacement of one’s birth culture by another) a Latin American individual morphs into a Latino.
Let me explain. The experience of living in America and everything that one is exposed to in this country creates a new reality for the individual. Although he or she still retains many of the similar cultural traits and life experiences as others living in Latin America, there are many ongoing occurrences that are simply unique for those living here.
Yes, you can be a Latino of Mexican (Guatemalan, Venezuelan, Peruvian, or Ecuadorian) descent but your life experiences, the more time you live in the U.S. begin to redefine your sense of self and distance it from those persons who currently live in your country of origin. This is not good or bad; it simply is different.
Let’s look at some of these differences…
1. Thanksgiving Day: Back in Latin America, there is no experience that comes close to what Thanksgiving stands for. There were no pilgrims, but rather conquistadors turning up until then free natives into slaves; not much of a reason to be thankful. Still, when a Latino comes to America, Thanksgiving is something that they want to adopt right away; it is an event that symbolizes, in more ways than one, the fact that now they live in this country.
2. Girls Playing Soccer: Soccer, or “Fútbol”, in Latin American is predominantly a men sport. When immigrants come to this country they notice that not only girls are play soccer, but they are awesome at it. This takes them completely by surprise. Little by little they begin to get used to the idea up to the point when they allow, and eventually encourage, their little girls to join soccer leagues. Hispanic women are suddenly free to “bend it like Beckham”.
3. “Greek Latinos”: Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Latin Americans get the opportunity to attend college. Most of the lucky ones live in the cities where the colleges or universities are located. Therefore, there is no need to move away from home to attend college, so there is no need for dorms, let alone fraternities and sororities. In the U.S. Hispanics are heading to college in ever increasing numbers and not only are they going Greek, but they are joining Latino fraternities and sororities, which can be found in basically every campus in the nation.
4. The Manly Art of Grilling: There is no natural and instinctive grunting (ala Home Improvement’s Tim “the tool man” Taylor) coming from Latin American men when in front of a Weber Summit S-670 grill. Generalizing, with a few exceptions Latin American men don’t cook unless pushed to extreme desperation. When we come to America we are quite perplexed by all the guys’ fascination with grilling and really don’t get it at first. Then, little by little, through repeated exposure, we begin to get the hand of it. Research shows that grillin’ is a consistently growing practice amongst Latino men.
We could go on and on, but you get the picture by now. Living in the United States provides a completely different experience to Latin American immigrants that differentiates them from their fellow countrymen who stayed behind. Now, think of U.S. born Hispanics who were never exposed to life in Latin America…
Originally published in Abasto magazine