All posts by JonCutler

Debunking Racial Identity and Promoting a Cultural One Instead for Latin Americans

Hispanics are considered the most diverse ethnic group around the world. There is such biological and cultural diversity that it would be fallacious to throw Hispanics under one homogenous category. But I am a believer in a pan-Latino/a identity. In an ideal world race shouldn’t define who you are; to me I think it’s cultural. I purposely asked a client who is from Puerto Rico the other day what was his race, and he responded “I’m Puerto Rican.” It’s a tough question for Hispanics who don’t usually identify in terms of racial categories (e.g. black or white) because, quite frankly, many Hispanics (1) identify nationally, and (2) are mixed biologically and culturally, that is, they are mestizos. Therefore, it’s perplexing to think of Hispanics in terms of race. Some suggest the brown race, but this is just creating a whole new category, which in my opinion separates Hispanics rather than brings them together. Because there are white Hispanics of direct European decent, Asians, Africans, and indigenous peoples who make up Latin America. Hence, this racial categorization will just demarcate Latinos/as in general.
I personally, solely focusing on my father side of the family, have a mix of Spanish European along with indigenous peoples, and who knows, maybe even African or who know what else my family has mixed in there. Point being, I am mestizo. I speak a language and have cultural aspects that derive from Spain, but I have traditions that have been passed down to me from generations such as my food, music, family values, work ethic, and other ways of life that come from my country and from Latin America in general. In my case it becomes more complicated for the fact that on my mom’s side of the family I’m genealogically mostly fourth generation Russian (what is now modern-day Ukraine in Kiev) with a little bit of Polish mixed in there. (It is interesting to know that white ethnics don’t face the same racial issues in the U.S. as nonwhite minorities. Perhaps being because they can assimilate easier to the white Anglo society, than nonwhites who “stick out” from visual racial categorizations, not to mention, nonwhite minorities have a history of colonization with the U.S.)

But I believe that people aren’t tied by any type of biological essentialism. In other words, we are free to self-identify, which is why I associate culturally with my Colombian heritage on my father’s side as it has shaped me in large part to the person I am today. But despite that I’m Colombian, it does not mean I can’t relate to other Hispanics. At the end of the day I  have more in common with someone from, say, Peru or Argentina versus somebody from Greece. Therefore a key to the unity of heterogeneity in Latin America is its common history. 

Some Ideas of How We Can Spread our Message

Our work is important here. There is no doubt about that. But how is it that we can spread our information outside our classroom and into society? There is not one answer, but I’ll give a crack at it and write down some of my ideas. If this was a class that didn’t require us to be in the classroom (and if I was not working a full-time and taking six upper-level classes in order to graduate) then my initial reaction would be to actually get out of the classroom, take action and make our voices heard by doing some type of demonstration, say, in the City or downtown Newark. As a result, this would get perhaps get some media attention, and thus, our message will spread. But again, for me at least, it’s not realistic or doable enough for me to execute in an efficient and effective manner (unless we decide to do a demonstration here on campus during our class session).

A more realistic idea, for me at least and those that also has busy schedules, would be using electronic media as a main resource. Through Twitter we can get in touch with sorts of influential people. So how about we start by engaging influential people on Twitter by asking questions to see if anyone reacts. For example, if I tweet Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to see if he has faced microaggressions or why race matters, that is, if it does to him. Actually, I just tweeted this very person by tweeting: @HenryLouisGatesWhy do you think race and ethnicity matters? #WritingRace. Maybe he’ll respond, maybe he won’t. But I’m sure if we message random, but influential people who can get our class’ message across, then it’s worth it.

Blog #3

So I’m very excited in the group I was placed in alongside Neil (Race and Ethnicity in the International Context) because in all sorts of fields within academia we see a rise in global studies being that we live in a more globalized world. And what better way to study race, ethnicity, and identity than in a cross-cultural context.

My research interests for this class falls within Latin American identity, answering the question “what does it mean to be Latin American or Hispanic?” I want to look at how different Latin American philosophers have dealt with the issue. But even more so, I want to synthesize these arguments and make my own conclusion of what I think it means to be Latin American as I think it is very complex and complicated topic.

There isn’t one face that represents Latin America. On top of that, it becomes more complicated when you have Latinos like me who were born and raised in the United States. Am I (as a Colombian-American) any different culturally speaking from somebody who is actually from Colombia. Does culture even matter? Or are there larger things at work that connect a people, for example, history? Therefore, a comparison would be hugely beneficial in understanding the Latin American multicultural experience.

This leads to the next question: how will this project take form? Well I plan on taking the information from the primary sources (my own “anchor texts”) along with my analysis and presenting it in form of a digital video. The video will consist of pictures with a monologue over them.

So this is my contribution to the final “digital omnibus.” But being that this is also a group project, I and my partner in crime Neil, also want to take this project and engage it with you all, along with any prospective guests. I won’t write for Neil, but as a teaser I will let you guys know that he’s interested in looking into the Chinese multicultural experience. Our plan as a team is to compare our research and raise a discussion out of it.

I know this will be a fulfilling project and I can’t wait to share it with you all. As Dr. Zamora, Neil and I were discussing last class, this course is one of the few ones that give students the liberty to get deeply personal. And I for one am all for taking advantage of a course that I play a part in designing while at the same time will allow me to gain some introspection.   

Some Ideas I Have for Our Class

I was feeling a bit ambiguous in which direction I wanted to go in terms of research project and class structure. I originally wanted to investigate Latin American identity through a historical perspective. But realizing that most of the students (including myself) want to do a website for our final class project, I feel that the typical research paper and Powerpoint presentation would be a bit dull for such an innovative class. 

Therefore, I want to try to bring these ideas of Latin American thinkers to life. One way I thought about doing this was through my desire to make an animated film. I think animation is a powerful way to convey a message to people. Matter of fact, check out this animated video to the left which is on power so that you guys can get an idea of what I would like to do.

I have never done this before and I'm pretty sure I don't have the technology to do this. Perhaps this can be a group project. If anybody has any suggestions or would like to collaborate, please let me know.  

What My Research Will Consist Of

Being a first generation Colombian-American and living for a large period in my life in the city of Elizabeth—which has a large Colombian population—I questioned what it means to be Colombian. Even more generally I am interested in understanding what it means to be Latin American. 
So I am interested in Latin American identity (both from the perspective of Latinos who are from Latin America and from Latinos in the United States). I plan on studying a scope of primary sources of a whole range of Latin American thinkers from the nineteenth century (since that is when most Latin American nations began to form) till present. My research is an individual project being due to the fact that in a large sense it is a personal one; of course, I plan on sharing my findings with you all (my peers).

By studying the complexity of the various peoples that make up Latin Americans, for example, criollos (white people of Spanish decent), indigenas (Native Americans), and mestizos (mixed races between Spanish and indigenous peoples) , I can understand that Latin American identity is not monolithic. Latin American identity is a complicated and involves and analysis of all types of peoples. While my work is “academic,” in a sense, it is also autobiographical as I am trying to get a deeper awareness and understanding my own identity.