Generation Ã‘ among the Hispanic young serves as a counterpart to the Euro-American Generation X.
Latino/as create their own space because little if any room exists for them within the dominant culture.
What differentiates them from Generation Xers is their attempt to simultaneously live within two worlds, one Hispanic and the other Euro-American, without losing anything in the “translation.”
Ã‘s are bicultural in the fullest sense of the word, largely bilingual, more often fluent in English. Many are well-educated and possess economic clout in the marketplace. This helps explain why “salsa” music is used by advertisers who hope to tap into this rapidly growing market.
Ã‘s are challenging the historically negative images of Latino/as in the United States. Unlike some of their elders who attempted to assimilate into the dominant culture for the sake of survival, Ã‘s have learned to say Â¡Basta! (Enough!).
They have learned how to “be” U.S. American when needed, but they can easily revert to being Hispanic when desired. In effect, they are flaunting, not hiding, their Latino/a roots, telling the dominant culture that they will live and succeed in the U.S. on their own terms.
This time, ironically, Ã‘s’ strength is not being chastised but supported by some Euro-Americans who see the value this perspective brings. We discover a Latinization of Euro-America as more Euro-Americans move to the beat of Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan, cheer for Oscar de la Hoya and Sammy Sosa, read Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros and Christina Garcia and indulge in Latino/a food, music and art.
As Ã‘s voices are added to the dominant Hispanic conversation, they are asking questions avoided in the past. They are being more critical of older Hispanic leaders who have yet to interact with this rapidly growing contingency. And they are moving away from some of the basic assumptions made of the Latino/a culture that have not been updated to encompass the changing reality of Latino/as.
The Generation Ã‘ phenomenon has contributed to the dismantling of the romanticization of the oppressed. It has facilitated the assimilation to Euro-American mores for a privileged segment of Hispanic culture. It has also resisted the pan-ethnic Hispanic identity many have attempted to construct.
But there is a downside. Generation Ã‘ is one manifestation of a new cultural identity that is neither fully Latina/o nor fully Euro-American. In some respects, it has become a space for Hispanics who are not “too dark” or “too poor.”
For those Hispanics who are light-skinned enough, possess middle-class status and/or have cultural capital, acceptance by Euro-Americans could cause them internal conflict. Greater opportunities exist for these “acceptable” Latina/os. As they rise within the community structures, intra-Hispanic power structures develop between these “successful” Hispanics and those Latino/as who still suffer economic oppression.
The growing appeal among these Latino/as for conservative political action groups–groups historically hostile to the Hispanic presence–indicates the emergence of a new Latina/o identity. For example, when Californians voted on propositions which were detrimental to the more recent Mexican immigrant community, passage of these anti-Hispanic amendments occurred with the help of Chicano/as, who arrived decades earlier.
The desire of Latino/as to evoke a pan-ethnic unity diminishes the reality of how sexism, racism and classism are alive and well within the social space occupied by Hispanics. Casting Latina/os solely as victims obscures the dubious role they can also play as victimizers. Latino/as can simultaneously be both the oppressed and the oppressors, a fact that is inconvenient and sometimes ignored by those who would lump us all together as solely victims of U.S. hegemony.
All too often, Hispanics tend to identify the oppressive structures of the dominant Eurocentric culture, while overlooking repression originating within our own communities. Within the marginalized space of the Latino/a community structures of oppression exist along gender, race and class lines, creating the need for an initiative to move beyond the rhetoric of blame.
One question before the next generation of Hispanic is how do we continue a grassroots movement when a segment of the grassroots is adopting Euro-American values detrimental to their darker and poorer compatriots? How will this new generation identify with a second-class “Hispanic-other” when their “honorary whiteness” and class privilege allow easy incorporation within the dominant culture?
In short, what happens to our Latino/a perspectives when those who were formerly oppressed do not make a preferential option for the oppressed?
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.