I don’t know how it happened, but the Latinos in policy panel had just been taken over by a group of elderly women in the back of the room. They stuck out from the rest of the crowd as they were 40-50 years older than the college kids in the room and the current/former policy students on the panel.
A woman in big glasses started talking about labels. Mexican American? Or Chicano? Or Latino? Or Hispanic? How were we supposed to work on policy issues affecting our community if we couldn’t even decide what to call ourselves?
Oh no. She went there*. The college students up front turned at her and gave a look like, “oh no, not again.”
The moderator, a first year policy student struggled to get control of the session and avoid wasting the little time we had left on arguing over labels.
As soon as big-glasses-woman stopped speaking, I jumped in to save the day. Or so I thought.
I told big-glasses-woman that the label(s) people chose for themselves was less important than the work they were doing in and for the community. For the most part, people aren’t going to ask you what you call yourself. You can call yourself Chicano and know shit about the community, have horrible intentions, and do horrible work.
Big-glasses-woman didn’t seem to get it. According to her, labes were very important in the realm of politics. She smugly tried to use her 78 years of age to school me on the importance of labels.
I suddenly forgot the “respect your elders” lesson.
I was frustrated, and pulled out the Chicana/o Studies major card and explained that I know the origin, history, connotations and various meanings of the words. I get it. I’ve taken classes that cover this topic. You can’t teach me anything.
Big-glasses-woman then dropped the labels all together and asked, “where do you live?”
*I really don’t like talking about labels. I got enough of that as an undergraduate in Chicana/o Studies and MEChA. I know very well why I call myself Chicana, why I use Raza and Latino as panethnic terms, and why I eschew Hispanic. If you want to know, I’ll tell you.
What I won’t tell you is that you should call yourself Chicana/o or Mexican or Mexican American or Latino or Hispanic or fulana/o de tal. As long as you’re comfortable with whatever term you choose, know the origins, meanings, connotations and additional baggage that comes with whatever term you apply, that’s cool.
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