I remember once walking with my soon-to-be wife in Miami Beach, where a nice, older Cuban man rented us beach chairs. When we returned his chairs, he walked with us back to the boardwalk and engaged in small talk. He asked where we were from. We responded with “New York.” “Ah, so you are Puerto Rican,” he stated with confidence. “Well, I’m Puerto Rican, my girlfriend is Dominican,” I told him. “Oh,” he responded. Apparently that was the end of the conversation. To this day we wonder which one of us caused him to feel like he could no longer talk to us.
What most of these anecdotes have in common is they reflect a generational disconnect more than anything else. I personally don’t know of anyone my age or younger, who perpetuates these divisions or believes these characterizations have a place anywhere outside a comedian’s tasteless joke. There is a generational shift away from “country first” and the understanding that we are all Americans, all Latinos, and that place of origin matters very little in this melting pot of a country.
I do believe that the era of inter-ethnic rivalries will soon be over. One reason is the globalization of information and technology. Facebook, Twitter and other social media provide us a real window into other communities that we have never had before, dispelling stereotypes before they even start. They also connect us with people of other ethnicities on topics like music, art, politics and what it’s like to be Latino in the U.S., not just Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican. Today’s wired youth are learning quickly that there are more similarities between ethnicities than differences and that those who perpetuate division do so for personal gain, above the community interests.
There are even ways to celebrate these differences, even to comic effect, without being hurtful. Heineken once did a brilliant radio campaign where they featured Latino men who supposedly had little in common: a soccer fan vs. a baseball fan, a reggaetonero vs. a norteño music fan. But both agreed about their taste in beer. Apart from the fact that this was a commercial about alcohol, it’s that kind of celebration of difference — with a unifying spirit that we need more of.
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