It’s a tough time to be eating rice and beans in America. The recent shootings in Gilroy and El Paso directly targeted Latinx people. El Paso gunman Patrick Crusius posted a hateful manifesto about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Clearly, he failed American History. Sadly, this is not the first time a domestic terrorist targeted people like me. The Pulse nightclub shooting hit close to home. The lion’s share of those victims was also Latinx. With the ever-growing number of shootings these days, the hardest thing to understand is how a human being can kill fellow human beings? But racism against Latinos is on the rise. It’s part of our political dialogue and growing in intensity. It’s never been easy to be Latinx, but will things get worse before they get better? Or is this the swan song of intolerance?
The best way to describe being queer and Latinx in America is exhausting. I am part of two different communities made of people from different countries, classes, cultures, and even races. We are forced together politically by an arbitrary aspect of our personality. I may not have something in common with a black lesbian, white trans woman, an Argentine or a Chilean but their struggle is my struggle. That is because I happen to sleep with men and speak Spanish. The bright side is it does come with a community. You gain a sense of diplomacy and collective thinking. But there are problems I face people don’t understand.
While the prospect of me getting shot doesn’t keep me up at night, I have my share of race-based stress. My family is from Puerto Rico. I may have light skin and my family is safe from deportation. But the fate of Puerto Rico, America’s red-headed stepchild, is up in the air. It’s a commonwealth few Americans know is part of the US. It’s cut off from financial independence and beholden to America but its people can’t vote. After Hurricane Maria, the island is in shambles facing corruption from its former governor and America. FEMA officials have been arrested for fraud. That’s right, more corruption from Trump officials.
Seeing Latinx children crying, sometimes behind fences, because they were separated from their families cast a black cloud on my day. It’s hard to stomach people blaming social inequity and job loss on a bunch of people willing to take jobs no one wants. It makes me angry people in America are quick to treat someone who speaks Spanish like they are ignorant if they can’t perfectly speak two languages. Many Americans can barely speak English. Americans don’t remember enough history to know half of the US was part of Mexico. Internment camps were inhumane precursors to death camps. To hear Republicans call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a communist when Russia interfered in our election. I nearly choke on the irony…and rage.
Latinx vs. Hispanic
Latinidiad, or Latinx-ness for non-Spanish speakers, is complex. The Latinx community is comprised of people from 20 different countries. The term Latino, now Latinx, honors the native people of Central and South America and the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. It also includes people from Brazil. The difference between Latino in Hispanic is drastic. Hispanic is anyone from the Spanish empire. This includes Filipinos and people from Spain. Spoiler alert: people from Spain are European, arguably white. Penelope Cruz has more in common culturally with Monica Belucci than she does with Salma Hayek.
Uniting people by their colonizers is problematic. Jamaicans, Indians, Australians, and Americans all speak English. We would not call them all English. We honor their various cultural differences. We are quick to distinguish between American, Irish and English people. And yet, all Latinx people get lumped together. As a Caribbean person, I have as much in common with someone from Barbados as I do someone from Mexico. But because they are black and I speak Spanish we are relegated to different groups.
People equate the Spanish language with ignorance. There are wealthy, intelligent, and well-to-do Latinx people. I find it funny people will make the effort to pronounce a French or Italian word. But not a Spanish one. It’s a strange line to draw. It’s hard to see Sophia Vergara nailing comedy in her second language that’s written arbitrarily by non-Spanish speakers to make her sound like a sexy muppet. It’s soul-crushing to see the difference in how people treat me when they assume I am white and find out I am not. It creates a paranoia about if an issue is because someone hates me because of my race. It’s as hard to hear people make cracks about Mexicans as it is to hear people deride Lesbians. It’s just an added burden that I wish I didn’t have to shoulder. I wonder how a country built on the melting pot of many races can survive this much divisiveness and misdirected anger.
To quote Elektra Abundance from a recent episode of Pose, “I know our presence here threatens you. We fought for our place at this table. And that has made us stronger than you’ll ever be.” I take pride, or “orgullo”, in the fact my grandmother only had a third-grade education and lived in a small hut with a mud floor. I was raised to value education and I meet people startled at how much I know. I find peace in knowing that I, like many people of the Latinx “community”, have survived ancestral trauma, casual racism, and leaving a country for something better. I am also proud of my culture. So while the anger, frustration, and mental drain may weigh me down I know we are on the right side of history. I just hope that by sharing our stories we can stop being haphazardly lumped together by who we sleep with, what language we speak, the fact our skin is black, or the shape of our eyes. It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.
Check out his website www.christiancintron.com. // YouTube: CintronicComedy // Twitter: AbsoluteCintron // Instagram: @SighKickScream