The metaphysics of Latino identity and its social and political implications
Velasquez, Ernesto Rosen
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Political controversies over multicultural education, affirmative action, reparations, and racism concerning Latinos give rise to quandaries about Latino identity. Is it a racial identity, an ethnic identity, both, or neither? This study argues for a notion of Latino ethnic identity centered on a person's embodiment of Latino cultural traits (e.g., speaking Spanish, dancing salsa, etc.) and for its political significance in three ways: as an effective method of reducing ethnocentrism in the classroom, as a way of developing ethnically conscious public policies, and as a way to offer a promising way of reducing oppression in the United States. This thesis is developed by assessing four approaches to Latino identity: the nominalist proposed by Kwame Anthony Appiah, the familial-historical defended by Jorge J.E. Gracia, the public policy presented by J. Angelo Corlett, and the ethnoracial proposed by Linda Martín Alcoff. Each approach is limited in different ways. The nominalist view does not clearly distinguish racial from ethnic grounds; the familial-historical view offers no clear way of determining what kind of features are ethnically relevant; the public policy view makes ethnic change impossible; and the ethnoracial view downplays the ethnic component in Latino identity. All four approaches neglect an essential element in Latino identity, namely, culture. I defend the view that if one is interested in reducing ethnocentrism in the U.S. and providing a basis for Latino ethnic identity, then we should think that a person has such an identity if, and only if: (1) the person identifies with any of the many lower-level, Latino cultural traits (e.g., speaking Spanish, dancing salsa, etc.) that emerge from Latino history. The political significance of the cultural view is developed by situating it in the context of four political debates: the kind of history public schools should teach Latino children, affirmative action, reparations for Latinos, and the "Latino" versus "Hispanic" debate. The first chapter discusses Appiah's defense of the educational policy that public schools should teach American-history-first to all American children. Drawing on Walter Mignolo's decolonial approach to history, I argue that Appiah's recommendation is not as multicultural as it seems because it turns marginalized groups into objects, rather than subjects, in history. If ethnocentrism is to be reduced in classrooms, then public schools should teach Latino-history-first to Latino children. The second chapter assesses Gracia's political claim that affirmative action is justified for Latinos as a matter of justice or utility. Drawing on Charles Mills's concept of non-ideal theory, I argue that Gracia's view about the proper aims of affirmative action do not offer an effective means of eliminating what critical race and feminist theorists call "white ignorance," which is a type of ignorance about people of color. If affirmative action aims to reduce the production and reproduction of white ignorance, then a person's possession of Latino cultural properties should determine ethnic relevance. The third chapter evaluates some of the arguments against reparations in general and draws on Rodolfo Acuña's account of Chicano history to show that reparations for some Mexicans are justified as a matter of justice. The fourth chapter critically evaluates why "Latino" is the most apt label for the population under discussion and why political considerations should be relevant when determining the choice of a name. In the final chapter a cultural view of Latino ethnic identity is proposed. Criticisms against a cultural approach are presented and then rejoinders are offered. I argue that a non-ethnocentric cultural view of Latino ethnic identity accounts for hybrid ethnic features, and does not naturalize, universalize, or racialize Latino traits.