As a Hispanic, watching the media’s use of terms like “white” and “Hispanic” and “Latino” in the Zimmerman-Martin case has been an occasion for much eye-rolling. The way the press uses these terms betrays just how completely ignorant most reporters and talking heads are about even the basics of ethnicity and race in this country. Also, it’s a fair bet that the “journalists” at CNN and NBC have never actually seen a Hispanic who wasn’t scrubbing toilets or peeling potatoes back at the reporters’ Chevy Chase estates, so they can be forgiven for being so clueless on this matter. Our media elite might have to leave Martha’s Vineyard to actually meet a Hispanic who didn’t fit their preconceived notions of race and ethnicity.
With the Zimmerman-Martin case, Zimmerman is labeled as simply white, in spite of his claims of Hispanic heritage, because that’s what the media has determined will produce the most fertile ground for “racial” conflict. Had Zimmerman been the victim of a shooting, and the shooter were also white, then Zimmerman would of course then be labeled Latino, and the case would then be a national story on the oppression of Latino persons of color by whites in this country. In fact, Zimmerman is pretty obviously white or perhaps mestizo. What is not deniable however that he is also Hispanic. I don’t know why this is so hard for the media to grasp, but let’s just make this clear: According to anthropologists, ethnologists, historians, and census takers, “Hispanic” or “Latino” is not a racial designation. It is a term that denotes ethnicity.
Hispanics can be of any race. There are white Hispanics, black Hispanics, and even Asian Hispanics. Examples would be former Mexican president Vicente Fox, Cuban musician Ibrahim Ferrer, and former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, respectively. There are also, of course, mestizo Hispanics, such as Benito Juarez. White non-Hispanics are properly referred to as “non-Hispanic whites” in the technical jargon, and among us Hispanics, we simply refer to such people as “Anglos” for lack of another easy-to-use term. We all know, however, that only the mestizo Hispanics, who look like the stereotypical Latinos in the minds of many Americans, count as fully “Hispanic.” Indeed, my mother who is a dark-skinned Hispanic is often forced to have conversations like this with Anglos and other non-Hispanics:
Stranger: What are you? I mean racially? Mom: Uh, well, my parents came here from Mexico Stranger: Hmmm, you don’t look “Hispanic” Mom: Maybe if I donned a sombrero and put my hair in braids I would look Hispanic enough for you?
And so on.
Left liberals are often the worst about this. Being utterly parochial about race and ethnicity, as so many Anglo leftists are, they fancy themselves the arbiters of who is sufficiently Hispanic and who is not. Such is the case with the talking heads during the Zimmerman-Martin affair. Zimmerman, perhaps because of his German last name, is deemed white without any qualification because, well, that plays better as racial high-drama. And we all know that all Hispanics have Spanish surnames just like Nestor Kirchner, Salma Hayek and Bernardo O’Higgins, the George Washington of Chile.
Why should we refer to Zimmerman as a Hispanic? Well, because we know that he and his family claim that he is Hispanic. They know better than we do. A Hispanic is simply a person raised in a culture in which Hispanic cultural elements are a dominant or influential factor in one’s life. Such things include the Spanish language, a feeling of shared heritage and cultural solidarity with other Hispanics, and sometimes but not necessarily, Roman Catholicism. If someone has been raised in or lives in such an environment, such a person is probably Hispanic. It has nothing to do with race, and it has nothing to with the origins of one’s last name.
There is a reason that questionnaires with demographic information ask two questions to determine one’s status as a Hispanic or Latino: What race are you? and “Are you Hispanic or Latino?
NB: I don’t know if Zimmerman is a murderer or not. We have trials to sort those things out.