WASHINGTON – Immigration remains a popular debate topic on the political circuit, but social media conversations suggest that presidential hopefuls and the Latin-American community equally fail to identify with the Latino culture.
Recently, Latin-Americans around the nation took to Twitter in another open discussion about what it means to be “Latino enough”.
Such responses touch on physical appearance, language, and heritage, but vary from person to person. It brings out the complexity of Latin-American culture, according to Cassy Dame-Griff, a graduate coordinator for the U.S. Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Maryland.
“Sometimes, it’s a really external struggle,” Dame-Griff says. “You have got somebody somewhere telling you who you are. They could be in the media, or it could be friends and family.”
As the community searches for clarity, politicians struggle to understand how to reach Latin-American voters, according to University of Maryland anthropology professor Judith Freidenberg.
“There is always this label that encompasses people who have any connection to the Spanish-speaking Americas, but there are differences and conflicts within that identity,” Freidenberg said.
Now presidential candidates are using skills, such as foreign language, that could appeal to a larger multilingual Latin-American audience, according to Freidenberg. Yet not all presidential hopefuls make an effort to understand the community’s needs, she said.
Araceli Rosenberger, communications manager for a multi-cultural youth program in the District of Columbia and Maryland, called Latin American Youth Center, expressed concerns over increasing intolerance among segments of American society that are not Latino.
Despite negative feedback from some, the center aims to create a positive relationship between children and their cultures, according to Rosenberger.
“During Hispanic Heritage Month we do events and celebrations, but the whole year it’s a welcoming environment for all youth,” Rosenberger said. “There is a very conscious effort to celebrate all cultures and not only value Latino kids and their identities. They have the space here to identify with their culture.”
Dame-Griff, the daughter of a Costa Rican mother and Anglo-Canadian father, said it took many years to be comfortable with her identity.
“A large part of my struggle around ‘Latino enough’ was ‘What are you?’” Dame-Griff said. “When I go back to Costa Rica, my cousins make fun of me. They say my Spanish is really bad. When I was a teenager that really hurt because I felt like I was not really Latino or white.”
Dame-Griff said she wants her students to take what they learn of cultural identity and apply it in every aspect of their lives.
“The minute you step foot off this campus, you are in larger communities,” she said. “We are in an area right now that is growing rapidly, and the Latino community here is big and varied and it’s coming from all sorts of places.”
To connect those in surrounding Latin-American communities, members are flocking to social media, Dame-Griff said, but presidential candidates are not hearing the different narratives within the culture.
“There are a lot of other ways [the subject] comes up,” Dame-Griff said. “I think it’s something that a lot of folks have to grapple with, but especially Latina/o youth. So those are the folks who are using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and who are engaged in social media to have these conversations.”