By RIchard K. Munro

More Notes on Latins, culture, and Language

I never grew up with Mexican jokes; growing up in the New York metropolitan area there were , then, very few Mexicans and Mexican Americans.   I remember Tio Pepe was one of the few well-known restaurants which served any Mexican fare at all.   Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Italian, and Cuban (Criollo) restaurants were much more common. I only made it through college by .99 cent and 1.99 cent plates of Arroz a la Cubana.   There was a strong Latin presence which included French-Canadians, Haitians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians, and Central and South Americans.  And of course these groups were mixed with Greeks (born in Panama) Portuguese (Born in Africa), Irish (born in South Africa), Jews born everywhere. I knew many Spanish-speaking Jews in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Some were from Argentina,, some from Cuba, some from Costa Rica. Some were of Greek/Jewish/Ladino origin. I knew a teacher born in Cuba whose family had been Ladino-speaking Jews in Salonika and Constantinople prior to 1914. Can anyone deny the world is one big bubbling melting pot?

There was still a fashion of ethnic jokes however and I noted many anti-Catholic stories in which the Irish priests were always drunk and turning up with choir boys in their beds who had been frogs. I noted that the Cubans and Brazilians were really the only fully integrated groups; almost all the African American friends and acquaintances I had were Latin (Latino). In New York, in the 1970s there was almost no nativist feeling and the concept of what was “Latin” was broader.  It’s possible that there was some anti-Gay feeling but I have no memory of that because no one ever talked about it. We were normal young people. The boys liked shapely young girls and vice-versa. Living in Greenwich Village one had some contact with the Gay Community. I had some friends who might have been Gay but they never talked about it or acted out in any way. I considered that to be someone’s personal business.

Many Spanish-speaking persons of color considered themselves Latinos and not Black. Among the common people, the terms used by people were Boricua, or Latin or in Spanish “Hispano o Latino”. Spanish-speaking people did not naturally use the term “Hispanic” however and of course, no one had ever heard of LATINX (sic)

It seems to me Cubans and Puerto Ricans were much more likely to call themselves “Hispano” . Cubans and Puerto Ricans usually have much closer ties to Spain being officially Spanish as recently as 1898. ‘

Hispanic is a relatively modern word -I only heard “Spanish” as a youth- is still rare beyond government and census documents.

Hispanic is still an artificial government term essentially invented circa 1970. . Spanish-speaking people did not naturally use the term “Hispanic” however and of course, no one had ever heard of LATINX (sic)

People, it seems to me, prefer to call themselves by their name of national origin which is natural.

It doesn’t bother me if people call me Irish (I am part Irish) but my people were Islanders and considered themselves Gaels or called themselves by their tribal or clan name. Clans were legally independent kingdoms or regions until 1746. There was much loyal to the Chief and a strong remembrance of the Stewarts.

My people did not consider themselves Europeans or British either. Europe was “Roinn-Eorpa” the mainland. British people to them were Welsh people and of course the Saxon was English. 

Anglo was never a word that meant anything to me but English and sometimes protestant as in the term Anglo-Irish. Anglo-American meant a person of English descent.

I must admit even to this day I prefer “English-speaking” to Anglo because I am not an Anglo-Saxon. But I am proudly an Anglophile as I am Hispanófilo.  My children are Latins or Hispanic Americans but I have never claimed to be what I am not.  The Anglo-Saxons were the traditional enemy of the Gael. Calling a Gael an Anglo-Saxon is like calling a Pole a Russian or an Alsatian a German. The Irish word for Irishman or Highlander is “Gael”(Gaidheal in “Erse”). 

 Even most “Germans” did not originate in “Germany” but other places such as Russia, Romania, Poland, Switzerland and Austria. 

But even Mexican Americans are a divided people. They are severely divided by class.  Mexico itself is as divided by class as England  or Spain today, perhaps more so as England is more egalitarian today.   

I see discrimination against those Mexicans who are, obviously, of African origin. I see discrimination against Mixtecos who do not speak Spanish well (they speak an indigenous language of Mexico). I see discrimination against Latins who do not Speak Spanish well.  

I remember a young girl in my class -a huerita (fair-skinned girl) who was 100% of Mexican ancestry was taunted at not being Mexican by MEXICAN BORN students because she spoke so little Spanish (her parents and grandparents speak Spanish, but she and her brothers and sisters so far removed from Mexico did not speak Spanish.) They called her “pocha.” “Pocha” is somewhat derogatory for someone who is a “faded” Mexican that is someone very Americanized (anglicized).

But her skin color had nothing to do with her language: I know many darker Hispanics who don’t speak a single word of Spanish and have completely distanced themselves from their Catholic heritage believing it is not an important part of their heritage.  

Once again, as a Gael, I find this strange because my identification as a Christian is the single most important and ancient part of my heritage.  My surname, like many Gaelic surnames, is a Christian surname with a specific meaning and is a direct allusion to the early days of the Saints and Scholars of my people.  

I could not imagine being a Christian in the Roman Catholic tradition without acknowledging my debt to the martyrs and saints who preserved and protected Western Civilization and the word itself.  So for me, my Catholic heritage is something indestructible and essential even more so than my national origin, citizenship or “race”.   As a young man I dated young women of many races and backgrounds but most were Christian and most were Roman Catholic. I never found the Catholic church to be segreated place quite the contrary. “Here come the Catholics” said Joyce , “here comes everybody.

I still have difficulty with the American idea that race is a color and not a culture or nationality.  Exactly what do you call the grandchildren of a woman of Spanish, American and Filipino origin whose grandchildren are -brace yourselves- of Mexican, Irish, German,  Polish, and Lithuanian origin?  

It should of no surprise to anyone that this woman is multilingual -she grew up in the Philippines and is a native Spanish speaker as well as a Tagalog (Filipino) speaker that none of her grandchildren speak anything but English.  

What do you call them except Americans?  

When my grandfather spoke of the French race or the English race or the German race or the Turkish race or the Spanish race -I am quite sure he never used the word “Latin” or “Hispanic” his entire life he was speaking of cultures, languages and nationalities not what Americans call “race.”  

I still laugh when I recall him speaking of the “Gallachers” as a “treacherous race.”  By that, he meant they were not “leal n’ true men” from the North but a people apart -urban deracinated Irishmen who no longer had the traditional Gaelic values.

To a “Teuchter” like him they were “soupers” or “pochos.”  Similarly, ladies who were highly anglicized were “South o’ the Dyke” Lassies in other words more English than the English themselves.  The men were “toffs” Every community has its terms to identify “the other”. Every community has it words of self-identification. And at different times people try to pass into one culture or another. Cultural diffusion and assimilation happen over time and over the generation.