Good, Damned Hispanics: Who Are We?

The first time I visited the United States in 1995, I had to fill out a form before arrival. In the “race” section, I wrote “no race.” It was the first time in my life that I had read such a classification. A decade later, after traveling and living in some 50 countries, I returned to set up in a classroom. Over time, I understood that you had to ‘play the game’: the more “Hispanics” mark “Hispanic” instead of “White,” the more political power the government affords them. The logic is well-traveled: Minority groups accept being confined to a box with a label conferred by the dominant group. Through sharing a language, a history, and an otherness, at 40, I began converting myself into a “Hispanic.”

Like any group, we are an invention. In fact, the term “Hispanic” is an invention of the United States government. Nothing new, considering the country’s obsession with race since before it was founded. As an invention, we Hispanics are a reality, and as a reality, many wish to escape from the box, not in rebellion but rather in submission. A “z” that needs to be accepted by the “A” group must be at least 200% “A” to be accepted as an “almost-A.”

In a civilized society, change is allowed, but no one needs to forget who they were and who they are to be integrated or accepted (leaving aside the neo-colonial doctrine of assimilation). Furthermore, the idea of being “accepted” is another invented need. Why the hell do I care if others do not accept me as I am? When someone in a supermarket sees red because an “other” speaks to their child or the cashier in Spanish, decreeing their own laws about “the language that must be spoken in this country,” this person is breaking the same laws they claim to defend: Everything that is not proscribed by the law is permissible.

As history shows, no progression towards “equal rights” originated from the groups in power; they came from the organized resistance of those below. In this sense, we “Hispanics” in the United States have a historical debt. Yes, we had a César Chávez, but we have been far too accommodating in the face of an obscene list of injustices. We have not had a Malcolm X who dared to speak directly to power radically rather than delicately. Even worse, countless times we have betrayed the heroic struggles of other minorities: Firstly, because privileged immigrants have been unable to resist the temptation to pass off as White. Secondly, because we Latin Americans have also been corrupted by centuries of interventions and dictatorships promoted by Washington and the corporations that installed puppets as presidents or dictators, demanding laws and privileges for their businesses, destroying democracies, and leaving behind millions of exiles and massacred bodies.

Initially, this was justified by the traditional racial excuse that we were corrupt mestizos (because for us “the n*** does not belong socially to a degraded race”) or that we did not know how to govern ourselves because we were indigenous or Black. After WWII, the marvelous excuse of the fight against communism emerged to continue doing the same things that had been done since the beginning of the 19th century. The U.S. pro-slavery contingent expanded slavery across Native American territories and restored it throughout Mexican lands, all justified by the repeated discourse of “promoting freedom and democracy.” This practice never changed, although it did become more sophisticated with the multi-million-dollar secretive interventions of the CIA and the rich creole elites in our continent.

We have also betrayed our brothers and sisters in the South by denying this racist and classist reality behind the new imperial arrogance. As a hegemonic power with the ability to print trillions of the global currency and with hundreds of military bases all around the world, the US can conduct very profitable business by twisting the arm of those “non-compliant” nations. No one calls impoverished countries such as Haiti and Honduras capitalist, even though they are more capitalist than the US. Thus, the greatest expulsion of migrants (usually Black, Brownand poor) comes from these capitalist countries that are not on Washington’s boycott list. On the contrary, they are financed with millions of dollars as well as the classic media narrative.

Now, the immigrants, who depend on their work to survive, must adhere to the law of supply and demand in an even more dramatic fashion than capital. But capital is free; the workers are not. They are not even free to say what they think. The immigration laws (anyone who has been to a U.S. embassy for a visa will be aware of this) hate workers.

So, when a “z-Hispanic” arrives in a country with this hegemonic force, often fleeing from the violence, corruption and chaos organized by that same country, they dress up as an “a-Hispanic.” Many claims to be fleeing from countries where they do not have freedom of expression, but the second they hear a different opinion, they vomit the old myth from the “A” group: “if you do not agree, go to another country.” It is as if the adulation of power and the reification of national myths were a moral and constitutional obligation, as if countries had owners, as if they were cults, armies, football teams, political parties, as if critical thinking and the search for the truth were somehow anti-American…

In 2019, a terrorist killed 23 Hispanic people in a Walmart in Texas, alleging that they were invading his country. This was a mirror of the linguistic inversions of Andrew Jackson, who after pillaging and massacring Native American communities accused them of unprovoked aggression, and James Polk, who made up a Mexican aggression “on American soil” to expropriate half of the neighbor’s territory. The traditional recourse to “we were attacked first, and we had to defend ourselves” (such as with the USS Maine and in countless other false flag operations) is in the DNA of nativist fanatics, some of them “a-Hispanics,” all of them monuments to ignorance.

The profound racism of politicians and KKK-sympathizing ultra-religious zealots, from whom Hitler took inspiration, was reborn as an ideological triumph after the Confederacy was defeated in battle. Not without irony, modern-day Mexico and all Caribbean and Central American countries are not states in the U.S. because the invaders discovered that those countries were full of Black people. When Abraham Lincoln ended the long U.S. dictatorship, former slaveowners brought in the Jim Crow laws. As a result, Cubans in Florida (which in its clubs, industries, and hospitals did not discriminate between Black and White people) were separated by force and obliged to adopt the customs of the successful Anglo-Saxons. New Mexico and Arizona did not become states with the full right to vote until 1912 when Washington was able to verify that the Hispanic majority had receded since 1848 to the point of becoming a minority. From 1836, Hispanics that stayed north of the border became the “invading bandits”. Those that arrived had to fight in the courts until the beginning of the 20th century to prove that they were White. During the Great Depression in the ‘30s, half a million Americans were deported to Mexico because they had Mexican faces and accents, causing many to continue fighting to ‘whiten’ themselves.

This psychology of the colonized, of the individual desperate to be accepted through disguising themselves, continues to this day. Consequently, the greatest service that anyone can do for this country is not to go to the beach with the stars and stripes emblazoned across their bathing suit but rather to tell the truth. Above all, inconvenient truths, those that have been buried by the brute force of barbarism in the name of civilization.

Until then, we will continue to be complicit in imperial myths. Just as we maintain those useless patches of grass at the front of our houses to avoid raising eyebrows (perfectly geometric and with no sign of human life around them, the neurotic expression control), we do the same with national myths. This country will never overcome the trauma of the Civil War, nor will it achieve great social progress, until it stops lying to itself. We Hispanics can contribute to a courageous change, or we can join the ranks of cowardly self-satisfaction and the misty-eyed adulation of power.

Jorge Majfud, 2021