The Tide Goes Out
During those teen years, I can recall a few instances where kids who were clearly Latino (if you’re mistaken for a member of Menudo for instance) distanced themselves or denied the culture. For instance, a talented varsity baseball player I went to school with insisted on being called “Ray,” although his name was “Rafael.”
Another classmate who was Harvard bound with the surname Martinez, insisted his last name be pronounced Martiness (if that’s even possible). At the time I found it odd and confusing. Why hide? Why divorce yourself from a fact that was as plain as the nose on your face? I’m brown, have a common Latin apellido and couldn’t assimilate if my life depended on it. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.
As an adult, with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, I now see that those teens were struggling with self-discovery (as most teens do) at that particular point in time. It was—ok, I’m going to date myself here—the 80’s when Latinos were not even on the radar, Jenny was still living on a block in the Bronx and novelas were only watched inside the confines of your abuela’s living room. So I get why a 14-year-old kid simply wants to do their best to fit in with whatever the mainstream or accepted norm is.
And Comes Back In
Flash forward 25 years or so. There has definitely been progress, but as with anything in life, some bad comes with the good. These days, it’s either en vogue to be Latino or just makes good business sense to identify or align with the culture. In Corporate America it falls under the buzzword “diversity.”
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud it and am happy to see businesses, schools, organizations and companies paying attention and taking action. The issue is when it’s done irresponsibly, mostly in the form of inauthentic use of this culture or ethnicity for business and/or personal gain. I have personally witnessed the guy who’s gunning for partner and has always identified himself as Italian, suddenly reveal he is 1/4 Cuban so he can check the box labeled “Hispanic/Latino” to improve his chances at scoring that promotion; essentially he’s using “diversity” as an added form of leverage. I’ve also seen senior managers bringing the junior associate (who happens to be Latino) to the Banco Popular client pitch, even though that young associate will never touch the account. Two words for that type of conduct: no bueno.
I don’t believe one commentary about social observations can resolve the bigger issue at hand. But, I would tend to subscribe to the following approach: be honest about who you are even if it’s not the accepted or desired option. If you authentically connect with or identify with the culture or have a personal desire to do so, kudos to you. But don’t try to fake it to make it. Trust me, people will know and the ultimate embarrassment of being called out or checked about your identity issues just isn’t worth it.
If you liked this article. Check this one out: Culture Clash: Latino Rivalries