New immigrants have always had to contend with the so-called natives and suffer the hazing that comes with it. Before Latinos were even a U.S. phenomena the progeny of British immigrants were welcoming the incoming Irish with not only names, but downright violence (see the movie Gangs of New York). The Germans and Italians each had their turn at the bottom of the immigrant totem pole. Jump forward a century and West Side Story touches upon what Puerto Ricans dealt with when they became an established community in the Northeast in the 1940s and 50s.
A few generations later the demographics of Latinos in the U.S. is much more diverse than Puerto Ricans to the East, Mexicans to the West. The communities these pioneering Latinos once inhabited are changing before their eyes. In New York where Dominicans are the fastest growing Latino population and you can find more Mexican food stores in el barrio then cuchifritos. Older generations of Puerto Ricans are finding it hard to cope with the change. My own grandmother still sometimes says “dominicano” the way people used to say “cancer” or how some Whites say “Black”; in a whisper, as if the name somehow had shame attached to it.
Of course, I am married to a Dominican and have two beautiful Domini-Ricans, so I get to see how it plays on both sides. With certain members of my wife’s family, the fact that I can put two Spanish sentences together somehow amazes them, because Boricuas are seen as the “lost tribe,” absent of any real culture outside of the urban canon. I have a good friend who, when he visited the Cuban parents of his then girlfriend, was met with the question, “Por que me trae este negro a mi casa?” (Why did you bring this black guy to my house). Suffice it to say that was not a relationship that lasted.