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Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

The Invention of Hispanics

Before 1970, the US Census Bureau classified Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants as whites. Each community of Latin American origin would go by their nationality and by the region where they lived in the United States. But all that changed in the seventies, as activists began lobbying the US Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term “Hispanic”, first introduced in the US Census in 1970.

Then it was up to Spanish-language media to get the word out. The network that would later become Univision released this series of ads calling on “Hispanics” to fill out the 1980 Census. The ads feature “Hispanic” sports stars and… Big Bird:

By the 1990s, Univision was creating the images and sounds associated to Hispanics in the US. The 1990 Census ads feature the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz telling Hispanics to fill out el censo:

Maria Hinojosa interviews author and scholar G. Cristina Mora about origins of the term, the people that crafted it, and what it actually means to be Hispanic in the United States today.





Cristina Mora

G. Cristina Mora is a sociology professor at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses mainly on questions of racial and ethnic categorization, organizations, and immigration. Her book, Making Hispanics provides a socio-historical account of the institutionalization of the “Hispanic/Latino” panethnic category in the United States.




Videos courtesy of Univision Communications and the Univision News library in Miami, Florida. 

Photo courtesy of El Telecote archive on Found SF 

Why Latino History Matters

To wrap up our history special, we explore why Latino history matters. We speak with historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (author of “Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States). Fernandez-Armesto makes the argument that if the United States wants to be a great nation in the future, it needs to embrace its history as a Latin American nation. Then we return to Laredo, a 96 percent Latino city on the US-Mexico border that’s also hosts the nation’s biggest celebration of George Washington’s birthday, to get a sneak peek at what our country’s Latino future might look like.


reynolds_fernandez_armestoBorn in 1950, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was raised in London by his Spanish born father and British born mother, both active journalists. As a historian, he has written numerous books on a variety of subject from American History to the Spanish Armada. He currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of  Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States.

Latinos: The Cosmic Race

A Mexican philosopher named José Vasconcelos believed one day, a new race of people would be born out of the Americas. His 1925 essay was called “La Raza Cósmica”. Because Latin Americans are Mestizos – a mix of European, African and Asian ancestry, he believed they actually transcend all other races.


Author Marie Arana spoke about Vasconcelos at the Library of Congress.

“He believed that the experiment that was being conducted in Latin America, of mixing of races, was an important venture,” says Arana. Vasconcelos looked to the leaders of Latin American independence for inspiration, “In an instance of historical crisis they formulated the transcedental mission assigned to our region of the globe, the mission of fusing people ethnically and spiritually,” says Arana.


Vasconcelos believed one day La Raza Cósmica would erect a new civilization, Universópolis, where traditional ideas of race and nationality would be transcended in the name of humanity’s common destiny.


The National Council of La Raza takes its name from this idea.


Senator Barrack Obama commented on La Razá Cósmica in a speech to the NCLR in  2008. “That’s big, a term big enough to embrace the rich tapestry of cultures and colors and faith that make up the Hispanic community, “ says Obama in the 2008 speech, “big enough to embrace the notion that we are all a part of a greater community, that we have a stake in each other, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we rise and fall as one people.”


That was before his election, and before his administration deported 2 million people. But if you examine the demographics, the cosmic race seems to be emerging. President Obama himself is biracial, and according the the U.S. census, half of all Americans under 5 are Black, Latino or Asian.


It looks like La Raza Cósmica has indeed arrived.

(Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images)



Breaking: Queergyztan Declares Independence

For our fiction edition, Latino USA producer Camilo Vargas takes a shot at news parody by reporting on the foundation of a gay state:

Representatives from gay districts of the world’s capitals have announced the foundation of the gay nation of Queergyztan after a brunch near UN Headquarters in New York. The announcement comes after a sweeping wave of anti-gay legislation in Central Africa, Australia and several US states.  The queer founders initially vetted buying islands from troubled economies like Puerto Rico, Spain or Greece. But Western powers decided the new gay nation will be located at the heart of the Persian Gulf, where permitted homosexual activity was first documented in ancient Assyrian-Mesopotamian territories. The new rainbow shaped nation will form a tri-national border with Kuwait, Iraq and Iran. Newscaster Satireus Temple-Arcton reports the historic declaration and the responses from world leaders. Latino USA producer Camilo Vargas gets reactions from the streets of New York.


Frank Garcia Hejl

Our “newscaster” is Frank Garcia Hejl, a writer and actor in the New York sketch group Onassis. He is also a member of the UCB weekend team Bucky. His favorite film of all time is a tie between Ghostbusters and Gremlins. Seriously. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas with a degree in Sociology and English.






C4_CamiloVargasHeadShotCamilo Vargas went from his native Colombia to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He joined Latino USA after a fellowship with Univision Noticias and Univision’s Investigative Unit. Before coming to the US, Camilo was a researcher in conflict studies and US-Latin America relations for the Colombian government and the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota.




Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images



I’m X percent Native…right?

April Salazar was told by her family that she was Spanish-descended, and she should be proud of her Spanish heritage. That knowledge helped shape her identity until her family got genetic testing and found some surprising results. Not only is not as Spanish as she was led to believe, but she’s also part Native American–in fact, a lot Native American.
AprilSalazarApril Salazar is a writer and storyteller.  She’s written for Playgirl, The Story Collider Magazine, and SuperVegan and she’s told stories at The Moth and The Soundtrack Series.  Once upon a time she was a deejay and station manager at WKCR in New York City.  In her spare time she works in technology at an educational non-profit.

Keeping Mayan Culture Alive In Nebraska.

More than 400 thousand Guatemalans have emigrated to the U.S, fleeing a violent civil war that led to the genocide of thousands of indigenous Mayans. Some of these Guatemalans are Mayans who don’t speak much Spanish, much less English.

In Nebraska, a group of Mayans fights to keep their culture alive and to make sure their community has access to the services it needs to thrive in this faraway place.

 Photo by Ariana Brocious


atrowe_smallAriana Brocious is a radio reporter/producer currently working as Reporter/Morning Host at NET Radio in Nebraska, where she covers water, environment, culture and community stories. A native of Tucson and graduate of the University of Arizona, she spent four years in Western Colorado, where she worked at KVNF Public Radio and High Country News magazine, before moving to the Great Plains.


Our #LatinoViews Twitter Chat

Latinos make up a trillion dollar market and American companies are eager to cash in


Some are learning how to target that economic powerhouse by understanding the complexity of Latinos — we aren’t just one monolithic group of Hispanics!


Example: Just think about how many different types of Goya beans you see in the supermarket!


We don’t all eat the same thing, and we don’t all think the same way.


This week we hosted a #LatinoViews Twitter chat with NPR’s Code Switch blog about their landmark poll measuring Latino attitudes.


The poll is unique because it solicited responses from nearly 1,500 Latino Americans. The sample size was big enough to divide answers by subgroups – it took ethnic ancestry into account and it separated immigrants from non-immigrants.


The problem with the poll it can only give you multiple choice answers. Do you identify as Hispanic or Latino? Do you feel optimistic? Have you been discriminated against?


But it doesn’t give respondents the opportunity to answer WHY they feel the way that they do.


That’s why we took to social media for a 1-hour long conversation about the poll’s findings.


Here are some of the best moments from the Twitter Chat we hosted with NPR’s Code Switch blog.


Two Tucsons: A Gentrification Story

One of Tuscon’s oldest Hispanic neighborhoods is slowly falling prey to that unstoppable force known as gentrification. Longtime Hispanic residents are slowly making room for newer, generally white newcomes. Reporter Aengus Anderson meets his new neighbors and finds out what his presence means to the future of Tuscon.




B3_Aengus_HeadshotAengus Anderson is a digital media producer from Tucson. Most of his audio work is very long-format and explores how Americans think about the past, present, and future. His most recent project is The Conversation.

Garden City, Kansas: A Melting Pot On The Prairie

Out on the dusty plains in the middle of the heartland is a small town that has made neighbors of people from all over the world. Garden City, Kansas, once a very white town, is today home to Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians and Africans. They came to work in the town’s massive meatpacking plants that turn cattle into beef.

We often hear about anti-immigrant sentiment in Middle America, but Garden City is exactly the opposite story. When the immigrants first started arriving, residents made the decision to open their doors and welcome the newcomers with open arms. As a result, an area once known as a cowboy capital has become a cultural crossroads.

Reporter Peggy Lowe tells us how it all happened, and Maria speaks with former Garden City mayor Tim Cruz about the value of neighborliness.

Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Public Library




peglowbPeggy Lowe is a multimedia reporter for Harvest Public Media and for KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City, Mo. She was previously a reporter for the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Orange County Register. 



Becoming Latino with Javier Dzul

For many Latinos, “getting in touch with your roots” means exploring the culture of your country of birth, or that of your parents. For dancer and choreographer Javier Dzul, it means going back further. Dzul was raised as a ritual dancer in a remote Mayan community in the jungles of southern Mexico. As a teenager, he left that community behind and eventually came to run his own modern dance company in New York City. Moving from the real jungle to the concrete jungle was a jarring experience, to say the least. In his own words, Dzul tells the remarkable story of how he adapted to a new world, and how he eventually came to embrace the rich culture of his old one again.

Photo courtesy of Matthew McMullen Smith

A3_Dzul headshot_2Javier Dzul is the artistic director for Dzul Dance, a New York City-based company that fuses sacred Mayan dance with contemporary styles. Formal dance training began at the Universidad de Veracruz at which time he also became a principal dancer with Ballet Nacional de Mexico and Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. Javier then received a scholarship to study at Ballet Nacional de Cuba where he remained until 1989. In 1989 Javier was awarded another scholarship by Martha Graham to study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Javier began choreographing and performing his own work in 1999. He established Dzul Dance in 2003. Photo courtesy of Acey Harper.


Marlon Bishop_new headshotMarlon Bishop is a radio producer, writer, and reporter based in New York. His work is focused on music, Latin America, New York City and the arts, and has appeared in several public radio outlets such as WNYC News,Studio 360, The World and NPR News. He is an Associate Producer at Afropop Worldwide and a staff writer for MTV Iggy.

Growing Up Jesús

In Latin America, it’s a name like any other. But here in the U.S., Jesús is a name that could still raise an eyebrow. So Latino USA producer Michael Simon Johnson spoke with a handful of Jesúses to find out what it’s like to grow up with the holiest name in the book.



michael-johnson-headshot-150x150Michael Johnson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He spent most of his childhood making music and groaning when his parents put on NPR in the car. So naturally he graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Sound Design, moved to New York and made his way into public radio. As an engineer, he has worked for Afropop Worldwide, WNYC’s Radio Rookies, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He commits much of his time to working on radio and multimedia projects but can often be found playing the bass, rock climbing, and traveling.

Under Water: Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis

Recent reports having been calling Puerto Rico the “Greece of the Caribbean” – and not for its mild weather. It’s because Puerto Rico is at risk of growing broke. Unemployment is almost 15 percent; the poverty rate is at almost 45 percent.

The government’s credit rating was downgraded in late 2012.

Everyone seems worried about the economy.

Eduardo Cintrón is a security guard at a shopping mall called Plaza Las Americas. He says the prosperity on display here is a mirage, “All the people that are here, they only spend with the card, the credit card, more debt and more debt.”

Cintrón might as well be talking about the island itself. Puerto Rico’s public debt is $70 billion, almost four times that of the bankrupt city of Detroit. It’s a similar debt load to the state of New York, which has more than twice times the population.

And now, there’s worry among bondholders that Puerto Rico could default

Unemployment in Puerto Rico remains higher than in the rest of the U.S.

Unemployment in Puerto Rico remains higher than in the rest of the U.S.


How Exactly Did This Happen?

Economist Vicente Feliciano says the Puerto Rican economy grew at a healthy clip for decades, thanks to huge federal tax breaks that lured corporations to set up factories there.

“It was growing at Asian levels,” he says.

Puerto Rico achieved one of the highest living standards in all of Latin America. But then in the 1990s, the federal government eliminated those tax incentives. It was like a death sentence for the Puerto Rican economy, “there was an economic model that came to an end,” says Feliciano.

By the time the tax breaks were fully phased out in 2005, much of the island’s industry had evaporated.

The government began to borrow a lot of money to make up for the lost corporate tax revenue.

“Your salary is cut so you start taking on money from your credit cards and there comes a point that you max out,” says Feliciano, “You have to cut back on your living standards, and we have been going through that process



The Paseo de Diego is a working-class shopping district in Rio Piedras, San Juan. More than a dozen stores have closed here this year alone. Photo by Marlon Bishop.

The Paseo de Diego is a working-class shopping district in Rio Piedras, San Juan. More than a dozen stores have closed here this year alone. Photo by Marlon Bishop.


Puerto Rico Has Maxed Out

Essentially, Puerto Rico has maxed out. Rating agencies downgraded the island’s bond to near-junk status in late 2012, making it difficult to borrow. So far, there’s no federal bailout on the table. The government has promised it will not default.

Instead, it’s taking tough measures in order to raise cash.

In other words, Puerto Ricans are really hurting.

Kelvis Polo is a shop owner in the working-class shopping district in San Juan. His life began 17 years ago as a street vendor, and slowly worked his way up to become the proud owner of several apparel stores.

He’s had to close two out of his three stores. He has had to lay off 15 employees.

He says lots of factors are conspiring to bury him. For example, electricity is extremely expensive in Puerto Rico – higher than in any U.S. state except Hawaii.

On top of that, the government has imposed a flurry of new taxes: sales taxes, gas taxes, corporate taxes. Water rates went up 60% this year.

The cost of living is high, and the wages are staying flat. Polo’s former customers have no money to spend.

“We small businessmen are the backbone of any country’s economy,” he says, “but we don’t have the strength to keep going.”

Polo plans to close his last store in January and go back to selling in the street, where he’ll have no rent or electric bill to pay.



Wilfredo Martinez Cuevas says after 65 years in the retail business, 2013 is the worst year he's ever seen. He plans to close his store on the Paseo de Diego, San Juan in January. Photo by Marlon Bishop

Wilfredo Martinez Cuevas says after 65 years in the retail business, 2013 is the worst year he’s ever seen. He plans to close his store on the Paseo de Diego, San Juan in January. Photo by Marlon Bishop


The Price Of Austerity

The government’s new taxes will raise an estimated 1.4 billion dollars. That’s a step towards meeting the goal of balancing the budget by 2016.

But citizens feel angry. There is a sense that the government is just digging in the knife.

David Chafey, a top government financial officer, says the administration didn’t have much choice. It was either raise taxes or cut

spending drastically.

“The governor felt that cutting expenses to that amount would have been quite painful to a lot of people, and maybe for the past 8 or 10 years, different administrations have been able to postpone on some of those decisions,”  says Chafey, “but at this stage, given everything we were facing, these were things that we had to do.”

But those things have come with a price.


It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Mario Alberghini is a 30 year-old entrepreneur who wants to stay in Puerto Rico. Given the current outlook, he says, it’s not easy getting a business off the ground.

“When you see young people leaving the island, they do it very calmly, and that is completely understandable,” says Alberghini, “Because on a certain level, you sort of don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Economists speculate that a recovery will come…eventually.

Salaries will probably be lower than on the mainland. And that could make Puerto Rico attractive to businesses again.

But for now, things will likely get worse before they get better.




Marlon Bishop_new headshot Marlon Bishop is a radio producer, writer, and reporter based in New York. His work is focused on music, Latin America, New York City and the arts, and has appeared in several public radio outlets such as WNYC News,Studio 360, The World and NPR News. He is an Associate Producer at Afropop Worldwide and a staff writer forMTV Iggy.







The Cost Of A Quinceañera

A quinceañera, or “sweet fifteen,” can be a glitzy affair with rituals to mark a girl’s transition into womanhood.

MTV Tr3s documented the crossover of the coming-of-age tradition in its series “Quiero Mis Quinces”.

As the Latino population in Las Vegas has grown over the past decade or so, so has the business of quiceañeras. Families might empty their pockets to throw a party, sometimes bigger than a wedding, for their little girls.



Kate Sheehy is a Multimedia Journalist with a focus on documentary style radio reporting covering Immigrant issues and marginalized communities. Sheehy has reported for public radio stations in California, New York, Washington, D.C. and most recently Las Vegas, where she was part of a bilingual reporting team called Fronteras: The Changing America Desk.

#1349 – Let’s Talk About Sex

In this week’s show, we focus on how Latinas think about themselves as sexual beings, and the constraints on their decisions about sex and reproduction. We hear from one woman whose decision to end a pregnancy brings up memories of a history of control of women of color’s fertility. We also examine how changes in funding of public health clinics in Texas have affected the choices of tens of thousands of women in the state. And we tell you the stories of some of the nearly two million people who have been deported during the Obama administration.

Photo Courtesy of Spike Walker, via Flickr

Pavochón: Puerto Rican-style Turkey

When reporter Von Diaz was a girl celebrating Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico, her abuela ruled the kitchen. Each year she created a magical dish called a pavochón, a turkey cooked like a traditional Puerto Rican pork roast. This year, she tries to recreate the dish with her grandmother’s help.



Von Diaz is a multimedia journalist based in New York City. Her reporting focuses on immigration, Cuba, and LGBT issues. She was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Atlanta, GA.She has published her work on PRI’s The World, WNYC, and New American Media.


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