Were there a more definitive algorithm for identifying whether something or someone is Mexican or Mexican, it could be more easily argued against. Instead, when I find myself correcting a disparaging remark about Mexicans, reminding the offender that they too are Mexican, it is not uncommon to hear in response, ‘It’s not the same.’
I once asked my mother to consider a life in which she was born on that side of the river instead of this one. Her response: ‘But I wasn’t.’
— Mallory Laurel, “Identity Politics Along the Border: Dissecting Why Some Latinos Love Trump“
My father, for the entirety of my childhood, was not proud to be a Puerto Rican. He was a staunch Reagan Republican who didn’t want my mother speaking in Spanish to us because “We are Americans and Americans speak English.” My father once told my sister to avoid Latino men because they are only wife-beaters and cheaters. And while we visited the island frequently, my father always felt the need to mention that Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, as if it were the island’s sole redeeming quality. I have often joked with friends that my dad didn’t love his heritage until he married a white woman. But I also don’t mean it as a joke; to a certain extent, it is an absurdity laced with sadness.
My father’s disgust toward Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, particularly the men, did come from a legitimate source of pain. His father, a Vietnam veteran like many Boricuas of fighting age in the 1960s, was in fact an abuser of his wife and children and had countless affairs, one of which gave me a tía who is only a month older than me.
My father’s light skin allowed him to pass for white, and our Corsican last name —common in the mountainous towns of Jayuya and Utuado where he came from, due to a Spanish effort in the mid-19th century to repopulate the island using European Catholics— made him, in most people’s minds, an Italian. That he came to terms with his real cultural heritage and separated it from his father, and came to peace with both inner conflicts, is a testament to his strength of character.
But far too many Latinos, some older, some living along the border like Ms. Laurel’s family, have not come to terms with their heritage and have chosen the class and racially-tinged mindset that by being in the United States puts them above the fray — they may have Latino blood, but it has been cleansed by the saving waters of Lady Liberty.
It isn’t hard to understand how, in a climate where DREAMers outright pledge their identity and allegiance to the United States and American culture, some Latinos could hear Trump’s unapologetically racist and xenophobic rants against Mexicans and others south of the border and not feel like he was talking about them. While someone like Ted Cruz has been called a self-hating Latino (rightfully so) and examples of self-hatred being tied to race are well-documented, there has not been much said about how seemingly progressive movements, like the DREAMers, carry with them the same seeds of self-hatred that are ripe for exploitation by someone like Donald Trump.
There is perhaps few issues as contentious in Latino circles as the conquest of the Americas, as I found out last year when I called out some Latinos for ignoring the reality that the empires of America were not that different from the empires of Europe. The anger toward Spain and its presence in the Americas is incredibly outsized in our community. After all, we are talking about an event that occurred 500 years ago, or half a millennium, between imperial societies that no longer exist. To speak to many in my community is to still feel a great deal of hatred and shame in being the descendants of Spaniards; it is much more preferable to highlight our ties to indigenous and African races, while disregarding the European component. For this reason, some Latinos don’t learn Spanish, or see it as a “colonial” language, and they view the conquest as further proof of how evil Europeans and the West are. Funny enough, in this estimation, they do not include the United States. In all the anger and vitriol directed at Spain and Columbus and what was done to indigenous peoples, the fact that those events, as far as Spain was involved, ended hundreds of years ago, meaning that anyone today has only the slimmest biological relation to them, does not seem to register. Yet when Latinos speak of the conquest and Spanish colonialism, you’d think they were talking about something that happened to their mother.
However, the United States has meddled in Latin American affairs for the last 200 years, most recently in Brazil with the soft coup of Dilma Rousseff. And by “meddled” I mean the United States and U.S. corporations have raped our land, stolen our resources, enslaved our people under the guise of free trade, slaughtered our people in the name of United Fruit, supported genocidal regimes in Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and Chile, and squashed democracy whenever it has been inconvenient for them. Yet instead of harboring hatred toward the United States for these not-so-distant crimes the way we do toward the conquistadors, a 2013 Pew Research poll found that Latin Americans love the United States. Most shockingly, that poll found that El Savlador, a country whose civil war was protracted because of the United States, whose country has been invaded by gangs who were deported from the United States and whose presence prevented the country from recovering from that civil war, somehow has the most favorable view of this country.
How can this be described as anything but self-hatred? How could we worship a country that has harmed us so terminally and continually?
— Fusion (@Fusion) June 22, 2016
Donald Trump and his supporters cling to a myth of a bygone America that worked for them, but not for “others.” Yes, they are racist and xenophobic and often disgusting in the things they say and do, but their worship of a false America is really no different than the version of America Latinos cling to. Both groups view the United States through a rosy lens that matches the sort of society they want to be a part of, rather than the reality of the society they are in. While whites lack the racial self-hatred of Latinos, they too came from people who left their countries and worked hard to shed their homeland and its “backwardness,” only they had the benefit of being racially the same as the people who run the country.
Latinos may see themselves as superior to the people in their homelands, but doing so is a result of a cognitive dissonance which allows them to enjoy Latino culture yet ignore their culpability in American imperial abuses of Latin America through their indifference toward bettering the societies that they abandoned. It is easier to rail against Spaniards who have been dead for four or five centuries than it is to rail against the current conquistadors, the American capitalists who use Latin America as their violent playground. To pledge allegiance to this country and its culture is to be complicit in the misery and poverty of Latin America. The immigration issue that inflames the Trump supporter and the Latino voter alike is a result of American brutality and capitalist greed inflicted upon the nations those immigrants come from. The unwillingness of both Latinos and whites to come to term with their role in this crisis is a symptom of a larger illness: the refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
When one looks at it this way, it is hard to see how Donald Trump isn’t the perfect candidate for Latinos.
Jonathan Marcantoni is a Puerto Rican educator and author based in Colorado. His books include Traveler’s Rest, The Feast of San Sebastian, Kings of 7th Avenue, and the upcoming Tristiana. In October 2016 he will launch La Casita Grande, a publisher of Latino and Caribbean literature. You can follow him on Twitter @Marcantoni1984.