Many years ago I was reading Don Quixote in the original Spanish for the first time. I remember I encountered the word “Latino” for the first time. So there are “Latinos” in Don Quijote. But wait! The way Cervantes meant the term it didn’t mean “Latino” but “Latinist” that is someone who could read and write Latin. Ruben Navarrette writes:
“Of course, I speak about what the Latino literati has been referring to cryptically — and often angrily — as “the book.”
The book is “American Dirt,” and it’s a novel, which is to say that the admittedly riveting story it tells — about a Mexican woman and her son who leave their comfortable life in Acapulco and head for the U.S.-Mexico border as they flee drug cartels — never happened.
How fitting, then, that this make-believe story would be written by a make-believe Mexican.
New York City-based Jeanine Cummins was born in Spain, but only because her Navy father was stationed there. She has lived her entire life in the United States, where she has identified as “white” and studied English in college.
Cummins does have a Puerto Rican grandmother. But she doesn’t appear to have spent much time over the years identifying as Puerto Rican.”
Of course, you know being born in Spain and having a Puerto Rican grandmother DOES make one (if one wants to claim it) officially Hispanic. Of course, as we know there are elites among Hispanics themselves so i don’t need to list them.
Suffice it to say if one’s father is a medical doctor and one’s mother was a teacher in a private Catholic academy and one graduates from a private Jesuit academy one is very privileged and more likely to succeed in an American high school or junior college.
Only a small minority of my students are high school graduates (from overseas) but those who are or who graduated from the 8th grade in Mexico or Central America usually have an advantage and usually graduate from high school and go on to college. It is an advantage, even if one knows little English, to have studied Latin, to know the parts of speech, to have a high level of cultural literacy in one’s native language as compared to someone with a very spotty elementary education or perhaps not even a native Spanish speaker (being a native speaker of an indigenous language).
I grew up speaking two languages (other than English), including Spanish (my father and uncle could speak Spanish reasonably well -my father read, Garcia Lorca, Machado and Cervantes in the original -he was an avid amateur linguist). But I never once claimed to be of Hispanic origin (because I am not) or even a national from another country (though I have strong cultural and linguistic ties to the Gaeltacht). None of my grandparents or great-grandparents were native English-speakers.
Of course, by heritage, I am a Gael but I know and have always known that I am the last of my race; my children and grandchildren will all be part of la raza cosmica. At this point every person in my family under the age of 40 is a native Spanish speaker and most are Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. How they identify themselves in the future is up to them. I just take for granted they will not speak my language or know much if anything about their paternal grandfather’s culture. The languages of Empire and the highest utility triumph. That’s why Gaulish and Celtiberian are extinct and most Native American dialects. Spanish and English are world languages as my language is not and I cannot lament the disappearance of our language (only a few people over age 60 speaking it in our family now and no one under the age of 64). As my grandfather told me more than 50 years ago -and he did not speak to me in English- “We lost the war. English is the language of the banks and the long-range guns.”
The languages of the big battalions and Empires always have an advantage over scattered broken tribes and clans. My English-speaking friends cannot understand the persistence of Spanish. I tell them it was CREATED and FORMED as a universal language of Empire. The Empire might be gone but the roots of that culture and thickness of the trunk are both deep and wide. In North American Spanish is the only possible rival to English. In my opinion, Spanish will survive into the 22nd century.alongside of English.
My language probably will not. The writing was on the wall for the Gaels long ago -Flodden, Kinsale and Culloden. The last leaves of that linguistic tree will fall sometime this century.