One of the few things I didn’t problematize in my fieldwork was the concept of Hispanic and Latino. As a Puerto Rican born and raised in the island, I have always been more comfortable with the noun/adjective of Latin American (if needed) after Puerto Rican.

I guess I could consider myself Latino, now that I have been living here in the US for almost 8 years. In contrast to queer, gay, or bisexual (labels which I don’t dwell too much on), I do think often of what it means to be Latino. Is it growing up here? Is it that I am originally from a Latin American country? I still don’t know. I know for certain that I am not Hispanic, since I don’t feel comfortable with that label.

I did notice that while we as researchers sometimes worry about labels like this (and we should when power laden language has real life repercussions) people are using them interchangeably for multiple purposes. Sometime in 2012 I found myself at this festival called Langley Park Day. Among the health fairs and the food, there were dances like this picture shows.  

Langley Park Day 2012

The Panamanians in this picture are dancing a traditional (folk?) dance from Panamá. Aside from noting similarities in their clothing with Puerto Rican folk dances, I concluded that all of these people were there for fun and were likely not inclined to be bothered by my thoughts on pan-american blanket identities that seem to erase individual and indigenous heritages.

So I kept enjoying the dances. Just me, a regular neighbor for now, eating my pupusa, and taking pictures of the cool dances and posting them on Instagram. I don’t think that anyone that day cared about the problems of these identities, since everyone was showing off a little bit of their own heritage. They get it. I guess I (eventually) got it too.

Just some thoughts…

[Originally presented at Anthroplus 2015]

Passing, and my presence in the field…

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the laundromat. I’ve been going to this particular place to do my laundry, because it is in the community where I’m doing research, and is very close to where I live. This particular laundromat is frequented by Latinos in the area, among people of different ethnicities. Kids running around, TV’s blasting, and two barbershops/hair cuttery place add to the picture. Two very interesting things happened while I was there: I found a novel way to learn about my research, and learned that I pass as Latino.

First thing was that one of the TVs was showing a rerun of a case from the court show Caso Cerrado. The case presented was about a man suing his pregnant wife, because she did not want to get vaccinated against Influenza H1N1. The man brought his wife’s brother in law to back up his ‘suit’, against his wife and his sister in law. The outcome of the show is a bit irrelevant, insofar as it is not what I’m trying to focus on here. I thought that this particular episode was very interesting given that it involved a pregnant Latina woman, her husband, and her family; all vying to influence some sort of decision making in what can be regarded as prenatal care as it pertains to the wellbeing of this pregnant woman. Before today, I didn’t give much thought to see how media, like TV, can influence a particular group of people in an important topic such as prenatal care.

I say this because it is a show on a major Spanish speaking network, and watched by many (including my own abuela back home). I disagree with how the show talked about the topic, but the judge (host of the show) did a good job in bringing in different doctors, as well as experiences from different people on which to draw an opinion for her ruling.

The second major thing that happened, was that once again, I was spoken to in Spanish while I was there. In my head I was happy, because somehow, something about me was reflecting this internalized experience of being racialized as Latino; as someone who came from Puerto Rico; and speaks Spanish. I was glad that others saw how my outward identity very closely reflects my self identification. This is great news for my research in a sense, because it makes me less of a stranger.

But later on, I felt bad. I felt sick to my stomach, because I was celebrating the fact that I was Passing – “I’m passing! People talk to me in Spanish!!”…

The fact is that I am trigueño, have curly hair, and have some some sort of passing privilege because of it. I also have academic privilege, Puerto Rican privilege, and light skin privilege. I am trying to be always aware of my positions in the field and how I am perceived. So it’s bittersweet because I feel bad about the idea of me using the concept of passing to further the needs of my research. This will definitely be part of my dissertation.