“Mi Raza es tu Raza”

3 Nov

That quote– my race is your race– is from Ed Morales’ Living in Spanglish (2002).  Yes, it was an assigned reading from a class I’m currently taking on Immigrant Origin Youth education, but its ranking in my top ten readings in grad school (not that I’m keeping a list…).

The assigned chapter is a beautifully written ‘manifesto’ of sorts. Morales calls for a redefinition, even end, to the search for one particular Latin, Spanish, Hispanic, etc…identity.  Instead, Morales invites us to embrace Spanglish: a state of living where its “about not having to identify with either black or white, while at the same time having the capacity to “be” both”. He discusses the issue of identity being defined by arbitrary borders that had been drawn long ago.  Quoting Gomez-Pena, “America is a continent, not a country. Latin America encompasses more than half of America”. Rather, Spanglish is more about being “attached to an idea of nationhood that is beyond nations that sets us up for the twenty first century. It is the triumph of the spirit”.

Not ever having engaged in the behemoth of academic discourse around race, racism, racial identity, I kind of think this chapter really says it all.  I’ve always thought that borders (particularly those pesky colonial ones) are such a defining force in the world, and not always for the better. I would argue these lines have caused a lot of trouble from xenophobia to war (the former sometimes begetting the latter). What’s so challenging is that we haven’t yet found a way to figure out where our country, as defined by the bordered area in which we reside, stops and where our ethnic or racial identity starts; take a look at the 2010 census. It is so intriguing that just within question number 9 concerning race, you have skin tone (black, white). Then, skip down to “Other Asian” category, you have the specific examples both of an ethnic group, Hmong, and then a nationality, i.e. Pakistani. What is the deal? It seems to me like the census folk need to get their language straight.  Or, it’s just indicative of what a messy, opaque thing this is.

That’s why I really love what Morales has to say.  An invitation to ignore the solid lines on the map and recognize that perhaps race, ethnicity, nationality etc actually is just too complex to pin down.  As a daughter of an immigrant to the USA (albeit from Europe but that’s pretty relevant when you grow up in rural PA), who has lived significant chunks of her life in other countries, with two passports, I’ve given up hope in trying to figure out what I think my nationality or ethnicity is or isn’t.  I think if you live and connect with a community, no matter where it is geographically, it becomes part of your ethnic identity, your individual fabric.  I think that crossing a border, and recognizing that it doesn’t have much to do with the actual individual people on the other side a beautiful experience.  People are people.  Borders represent ways to put things in boxes. But when it comes to the lived experiences of the individuals inside them, they may make it complicated, dangerous, threatening or scary to what’s on the other side.

I would say that I gladly accept your invitation, Mr. Morales. I accept believing in a “nationhood beyond nations”, where we aren’t afraid of what’s on the other side of the line. Living in Spanglish, or Fritish, or Germanese, or Hondurani, or Afghanitalian, or whatever. Plus, you make more friends and the food is really good.

PS: To tie this back to human rights, doing good discerningly, etc. If we’re set on the fact that human rights, as written in the UDHR and such, are actually universal (although this point is up for debate), it may be worth recognizing that race/ethnicity/nationality are low on the totem pole and embrace some “nationality of the human spirit”. One doesn’t rank over another, they just are. I’d love other comments on the matter, as I haven’t really thought it through.

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