Hispanic Heritage Month: What is Latinidad Anyway?
All summer long, Maryland Latinos Unidos (MLU) has been engaging with leaders, staff, and community members to talk about what it means to be Latino.
What is Latinidad, anyway?
As Americans, we tend to identify groups of people in a narrow kind of cultural context to simplify our multiple experiences and organize what we are seeing around us. In the case of the term “Hispanic”, for example, its origins as part of the common lexicon date to the US census which has been used since 1980. Because of the popularity of “Latino” in the western portion of the United States, the government adopted this term as well in 1997 and used it in 2000, 2010, and 2020 Census.
The word has multiple uses and definitions. It is a Spanish-language term that refers to the various attributes shared by Latin Americans and their descendants without reducing those similarities to any single essential trait.
It is important to note that it was first adopted within US Latino Studies by the sociologist Félix Padilla in his 1985 study of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Chicago, and has since been used by a wide range of scholars as a way to speak of Latino communities and cultural practices outside a strictly Latin American context.
Part of Maryland’s Latinidad experience is that it is truly unique. It is an amalgam of Latin American cultures, right here in our backyards. There are 33 countries that compose Latin America and the Caribbean that come together in Maryland, sharing Latin-rooted languages with words often blended with indigenous tongues. There are many variances in accents, speech patterns, and word meanings. Latinidad culturally is, within itself, multi-cultural.
If we examine the terms from a social constructivist perspective, ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ refer to a geopolitical experience and contain within them the complexities and contradictions related to immigration. We can see this through the post- and neo-colonial realities that Latin America and the United States experience today.
But what exactly are the experiences that they are referring to?
The terms encompass race, color, legal status, class, nation, language, and the politics of location and mobility.
As we explore the Hispanic/Latino/Latinx diaspora and related diaspora experiences in Maryland, we must examine people’s points of origin and find useful ways to discuss new concentrations of Latin American cultures and communities outside any one national frame. After all, we come from many places.
The term Latinidad allows us to forge a shared cultural experience out of what on the surface appears to be something disparate. It allows us to build pan-Latino solidarity –e pluribus unum, “One out of many”. And we do it here, in the United States, a country with which we have all grown up knowing from birth regardless of where we originated. Our journeys and rooted connections to the United States are natural and a part of our collective identity. This is also part of our experience in how we become Americans, and how ultimately, we wield political and social power.
Latinidad is no one thing though our understanding of the concept is contingent on our place-based social relations across the hemisphere.
Maryland Latinos Unidos wishes everyone a wonderful Hispanic Heritage Month. Please take this time as an opportunity to read books, listen to podcasts, and watch movies, documentaries, or YouTube programs about the Latinidad that exists around you. Learn how to dance the Merengue or explore local Latinx restaurants. There are rich cultures waiting for you to explore them!