What does Latin@ mean?

I got my reviews back from my grant proposal to the NSF, and this is what I think about a specific piece of feedback that I received. Overall, the feedback was good, yet I felt uneasy about something. I don’t think I’ll be able to flesh this out in the most coherent way possible, but here it goes anyway.

Two of my NSF reviewers criticized my ‘monolithic’ use of the word Latino in regards to my study population. They mentioned that defining it in such narrow terms was appropriate for a grant to the NIH, but not for NSF. Finally, they mentioned that by defining it the way I did, I erased and minimized individual differences from people that come from different backgrounds, countries, and ethnicities from Latin America and the Caribbean. They actually were not that eloquent when saying all of that, but I translated it as such from my own reading of their feedback.

As an anthropologist, I understand this concern; as a Latin American queer person of color, I LIVE THIS! One of the things that we often do in anthropology is unpack and deconstruct terms such as Latin@. Yet, lately I’ve been thinking about what does that mean for the participants and others who identify as such. I agree that not everyone means (and internalizes) the same thing when they say Latin@, but such a social construct exists. We might not agree with it, but as anthropologists we can’t will it out of existence just because it seems to simple for our messy and complex theories.

How do we expect to engage the public, and the people that we collaborate with in our studies, if we believe ourselves to be so above their colloquial use of a term. I am aware of the political implications of the word Latin@, yet, what do we make of the people in my research community that actually use that word to describe themselves as a dyasporic community in the US? What do we make of the use of media like Univisión and Telemundo, trying to craft pan-Latin American identities in their shows and telenovelas? Is that not part of the world that we study?

So thanks, but no thanks NSF reviewers and your high horse definition of Latin@. I prefer to engage with the community; my community. I prefer to do research that actually helps. it would’ve been nice to get a bit of money, but I learned a lesson here.

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