This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Latinos have a favorite parlor game that no one ever seems to win. It's childish and cruel, and yet extremely popular. It could be called "I'm more authentic than you."
I know this game. In fact, at various times over the years, I've sat down on both sides of the board.
When I was in college and going through an identity crisis of my own as a Mexican-American at a predominantly white school, I looked down on Latino classmates who I decided didn't sufficiently "identify" with their ethnic background. Maybe they spoke Spanish poorly, or wore blue contact lenses, or came from upper-class families.
Now, in a kind of karmic payback, others will sometimes do the same thing to me. Latinos on the left will read a column detailing my criticism of President Obama's cynical policy of deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and accuse me of not being ethnic enough. Whatever that means.
Things take a turn toward the absurd when white liberals get into the act and eagerly try to assess my "Latino-ness." Recently, one Obama defender labeled me "an apologist for Republiscum" and declared my ethnic identity "a bit tattered and less-than-authentic."
That line of attack is racist, rude and condescending. I can't imagine being so forward as to tell a black person that he isn't "black enough," or a gay person that he isn't "gay enough." But apparently, it's fine to do that with Latinos.
Christina Aguilera knows exactly what I'm talking about. The pop diva turned reality-show star recently said in an interview that she gets criticized for not being Latina enough.
"I've dealt with that (criticism) my whole life," the co-host of "The Voice" said in an interview with Latina magazine. "I don't speak the language fluently. And I'm split right down the middle, half Irish and half Ecuadorean. I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone. I know who I am."
She went on: "I wouldn't be questioned (about my heritage) if I looked more stereotypically Latina. Whatever that is. All I know is no one can tell me I'm not a proud Latina woman."
In 2007, Jessica Alba got in hot water with the culture cops after the third-generation Mexican-American who is also part Dominican appeared to downplay her ethnicity in an interview for a Spanish-language magazine.
"Alba is my last name and I'm proud of that," the actress told Para Todos. "But that's it. My grandparents were born in California, the same as my parents, and though I may be proud of my last name, I'm American. Throughout my whole life, I've never felt connected to one particular race or heritage, nor did I feel accepted by any. If you break it down, I'm less Latina than Cameron Diaz, whose father is Cuban. But people don't call her Latina because she's blonde."
Latino bloggers went bonkers, viciously attacking Alba for not being Latina enough and, more precisely, not proud enough of being Latina.
These are just two high-profile examples of Latinos who have had their ethnicity challenged. There are no doubt hundreds of thousands of other stories from everyday people. Inter-ethnic group squabbling is nothing new. It was going on hundreds of years ago and it'll probably be going on hundreds of years from now. At the beginning of the 21st century, Latinos may be disappointed in liberals and angry with conservatives, but they still save the sharpest barbs for one another.
It's a ridiculous waste of time, and a distraction that Latinos can't afford right now. These are tough times for America's largest minority. Their numbers are growing, but so is the anxiety that other Americans are feeling about the idea that the United States is becoming a Latino nation. In Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, and probably other states to come, the resistance is digging in by passing anti-Latino laws disguised as immigration statutes.
Just when the nation's 50 million Latinos should be feeling more empowered than ever, many of them are feeling powerless and picked on. Just when our institutions media, government, academia, corporations, etc. should be embracing diversity, many of them seem to be intent on preserving the status quo.
Against this backdrop, Latinos need all the friends, allies and partners they can find. So they can't afford to be at war with their own tribe. It's time for a truce.