Columns, Opinions

Fernandez ’21: Responsibilities of the Latinx community in the US

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Across the United States, the Latinx community — now the largest ethnic or racial minority in the country — has grown more prominent in cultural, social and political spheres. Part of this rapid growth can be attributed to strong cultural connections that arise from a shared history. However, as Latin America continues to wrestle with complicated problems of inequality and development, it is important to step back and discuss the implications of being a member of the growing U.S. Latinx community. Who makes up the Latinx community in the United States? Why are they connected more by cultural rather than political discourses? How do they represent the people who are still currently living in Latin America? These questions are tough to answer, and the Latinx community residing in the United States must actively support those who are still living and breathing age-old Latin American struggles, especially when it comes to the central problem of colonial and post-colonial exploitation.

As a first-year at Brown from a Latino background, living in the continental United States for the first time, I have noticed and experienced a complicated relationship between Latinx communities inside and outside of Latin America. In recent years, the mass exodus of people from countries in South and Central America as well as in the Caribbean to the United States have brought mainstream attention to long-entrenched conflicts — started, in part, because of harmful U.S. policies. Unfortunately, I have found that a lack of empathy between Latin American communities has enabled serious levels of resentment and made the resolution of complicated challenges difficult.

Firstly, those who live in Latin American countries often resent those who have left. Historically, those with economic privilege get the opportunity to leave, as we have seen during periods of mass exodus such as the 1960s in Cuba, the 1980s in El Salvador and today in Puerto Rico, leaving behind the less privileged to deal with the turmoil. In effect, significant animosity exists toward those who claim the Latinx cultural identity without having stuck around to contribute to the rebuilding of Latin America during periods of hardship. That animosity is further inflamed by the fact that the majority of the emigrants from Latin America end up in the United States, the player chiefly responsible for the economic and political problems that force some Latin Americans to flee.

On the other hand, Latinx-identifying people in the United States resent this criticism and the de-legitimization of their identity. A significant portion of these people made substantial sacrifices to come to the United States and did so to escape serious dangers, including political persecution or poverty. It is difficult to criticize someone for trying to find better opportunities for themselves and their family.

Brown is a microcosm of these far-reaching sentiments — a reflection of both the growing Latinx community and the histories and politics that complicate the Latinx identity. On campus, a plethora of organizations — from the Latino Student Initiative that encompasses undergraduates, graduates and alumni, to the newly formed Puerto Rican Association — aim to create a real sense of identity on campus. Since my arrival, I have found my Facebook feed full of invitations to teach-ins, discussion groups and community meetings, all of which reflect the dedication of the Latinx community at Brown. And yet, I personally felt a sense of resentment toward those who I believed misunderstand the realities in Latin America; at the same time, I am sure others have felt the same toward me. I have found that all of these sentiments, while legitimate, have only divided the Latinx community and kept it from discussing the issues that really matter. In the end, I believe it is in the hands of those of us living in the United States, those of us at Brown, to work towards bridging this divide.

Firstly, Latinx-identifying people in the United States need to understand and accept the privilege that we benefit from. This is especially true for those of us at Brown, who have found ourselves in a space perfectly designed for this kind of open discussion. Secondly, we need to use this privilege to exert political influence in favor of non-interventionist, anti-colonial policies. The Latinx community, especially in hubs such as Miami, New York and San Francisco, is becoming an increasingly large voting force in U.S. elections — and this influence can be used to support a better kind of American foreign and commercial policy in Latin America.

Lastly, the Latinx community living outside of Latin America must learn to stay grounded in the realities of those who continue to live in the culture that we identify with and who continue to face the issues that we must now discuss. Particularly for those of us at Brown, it is easy to get wrapped up in intellectual conversations that disregard the real people affected by certain discourses. It is time to embrace the political potential of the Latinx community in the U.S. and direct our energy towards the elimination of political and economic exploitation. Our families, our friends and our home countries depend on it.

Marysol Fernandez ’21 can be reached at marysol_fernandez@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.