You would think that defining what makes a Latino is an easy task. I was born and raised in Mexico, so that makes me a “Mexican” or “Latina” or “Hispanic.”
I use those terms interchangeably though I prefer Mexican or Latina.
But as more Latinos settle in the United States, and second-, third- or fourth-generation Hispanics become the inner fabric of this country, defining what makes one Latino become a tricky proposition.
Is it the last name? The color of your skin? The language? The culture?
In theory, race, the color of our skin or the language we speak shouldn’t matter. But we live in a world where race still matters. For that reason and because it’s election season, I set out to find out how many Latinos and Latinas are in the Arizona Legislature.
It turns out that reporting a specific number is as tricky as coming up with a single definition.
There are about 19 Hispanics in the 90-member Legislature.
I compiled the list with the help of officials at the Legislature who made it clear it’s pretty sketchy because the Hispanic Caucus is open to anyone who wants to attend the meetings. And not all Latinos go. So that includes some non-Latino last names whose ancestors were of Hispanic descent or who merely care deeply about issues affecting this community.
“How many Latinos are at the Legislature? I can’t tell you,” says Steve Gallardo, who recently left the Legislature after 12 years to run for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Gallardo, who at times chaired the caucus, says he “had to take their word for it…I didn’t know their family tree.”
Outgoing Sen. Anna Tovar, who co-chairs the caucus with Rep. Martin Quezada, says the issues that matter to Latinos are the same as those that matter to the rest of the community, but quickly adds that it’s imperative to have a collective voice, especially after the anti-immigrant law SB 1070 catapulted Arizona into the national spotlight.
“We feel we’re giving them (Latinos) a magnifying voice,” said Tovar, highlighting that those with less access to affordable health care, for instances, are Hispanics.
Does race really matter when representing Arizonans? Tovar believes so because many Latinos, she says, trusts them as elected officials.
Gallardo says one of his biggest regrets is not speaking Spanish to communicate effectively with Spanish-speakers and reiterates the importance of Latino representation at the state capitol.
Being a Latino or a Latina will become increasingly important in the next few months as Democrats, Republicans and others vie for political power through the ballot box. A few legislative districts have predominantly Hispanic populations.
There might be some who are running in non-Latino districts and will have to appeal to a greater electorate.
Most Latinos don’t have a choice but to identify themselves as such regardless of language or cultural affinity because of the color of their skin. There are a few with fair skin color who can play the part at will. And there are others who are Latinos but chose simply to ignore that fact.
Either way, or until race stops to matter, we Latinos should always be — not just when it’s politically convenient.
Elvia Díaz is editor of La Voz & TV y Más magazine, Spanish-language publications that are part of Republic Media. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.