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Hispanics Aren't All the Same - A Commentary

By Marisa Trevino, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – It's a natural equivocado (mistake). Anyone unfamiliar with Mexican history, who watched the recent HBO movie with Antonio Banderas playing Pancho Villa can't be faulted for not noticing the irony of Banderas cast as Villa. After all, it's just a Latino playing a Latino, right?

Not exactly.

For one thing, Banderas is a Spaniard. Pancho Villa was Mexican. And historically, Mexicans have never looked too kindly on Spaniards. After all, it was the Spanish conquistadors who conquered the ancestors of present day Mexico. But during these 30 days of National Hispanic Heritage Month, those of us who trace our family roots to a Spanish-speaking country forget about that which divides us and, for the sake of federal recognition, celebrate as one gente (people).

It used to be easy. Since there were so few of us in the public eye, whenever one of our compadres garnered the spotlight - whether it was Ricardo Montalban, Rita Moreno or Roberto Clemente - we all proudly claimed that person and their accomplishments as our own. So, I guess it's our fault for letting the charade that all Latinos are the same continue for as long as it has. But it's getting harder to do so.

That fact was brought painfully to the forefront during this year's Latin Grammy awards in Miami, Florida. The host, George Lopez, a Mexican-American comedian from Los Angeles, was indulging in his usual comedic repertoire of poking fun at stereotypes before a mostly Cuban-American audience. The funny thing was the stereotypes Lopez was ridiculing were Mexican-American stereotypes. In Miami-Dade County, where almost 30% of the population claims Cuban-American ancestry, and less than two percent, Mexican-American, some of the jokes needed a little translation.

As we learn more about each other, it's obvious that we Latinos are far more different than we are the same. For example, it's a known fact that Latinos, as a collective whole, have the worst high school drop-out problem. Yet, when the numbers are studied a little more thoroughly, they show that out of all the Latino subgroups, Cuban-Americans are the ones most likely to hold a Bachelor's degree. Mexican-Americans have the highest teen birth rates among Latina teens. Puerto Rican-Americans have a higher prevalence for asthma than any other Latino subgroup.

And there are other differences: Mexican-Americans have the largest families, while Cuban-Americans the smallest. People who trace their heritage to Central and South America are more likely to work in service occupations, while it's been documented that Mexican-Americans are less likely to work in managerial or professional positions. And when it comes to politics, it seems Cuban-Americans flex their political muscle more often. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Cuban-Americans' political donations "dwarfs [sic] that of every other ethnic and foreign policy group in the United States, except the Jewish pro-Israel lobby."

Acknowledging these differences isn't meant to elevate one Latino group above another. Rather, taking note of the strengths and weaknesses each group has should make it easier to evaluate the distinct problems that exist within that group; and underscores the necessity to be seen, addressed and treated as individuals with unique histories, cultures and traditions. For the credibility and validity of social science research, policymaking, clinical drug trials and analysis where it's imperative to monitor the progress of a people, the umbrella terms "Latino" or "Hispanic" have outlived their usefulness as one-size-fits-all labels just for convenience's sake.

After all, a Latino by any other name, isn't just another Hispanic.


Marisa Trevino is a writer from Rowlett.