Two sides, same coin: Cultural awareness

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Gaby Morera

Gaby Morera

Sometimes people’s lack of cultural awareness astounds me.

The minute they realize I speak Spanish they ask, “Are you Spanish?” Or they ask me if I’m from Mexico.

Annoyed, I respond that no, I’m from Puerto Rico and leave it at that. But what I really want to tell them is to learn a little bit about the world and know there are many more countries that speak Spanish than just Spain and Mexico.

There are about 20 countries where Spanish is the main language, yet a lot of people assume we’re all the same. I’ve never understood this logic since the United States, Great Britain and Australia all speak English, yet their cultures and accents are different. So why wouldn’t it be the same for other countries with the same language?

Yes, we do speak different types of Spanish, and they’re distinctive. Sometimes I can’t understand what my Guatemalan roommate is saying because we use different words for the same things. We definitely think the other one’s language is ridiculous.

Argentinian Spanish sounds like Italian, Dominicans speak faster than most and Puerto Ricans don’t pronounce their ‘r’s. The differences between the different dialects are obvious enough to me and the rest of the Spanish-speaking community, as I’m sure different dialects are obvious to people fluent in other languages.

The fact that almost every Latin-American country or every Spanish speaker is conflated into two cultures, instead of the wide array that is actually present, makes me irrationally angry. Twenty different countries would never be the same by any means.

Sure, there are cultural factors that might be similar across those countries. But trust me, not all of us wear sombreros and eat tacos — which is sometimes all people know about Mexican culture. We share some Spanish traits since Spain colonized a lot of Latin America, but our cultures have other influences as well.

It’s not just insensitive to assume everyone who speaks Spanish is either Spanish or Mexican, but it’s ignorant. Instead of that assumption, why not ask where people are from and ask them about their distinct culture?

But my biggest pet peeve is when people use Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. Believe it or not, there’s a difference.

Hispanic refers to people who are descendants or natives of a Spanish-speaking country. Latinos, on the other hand, are people who are descendants or native of a Latin-American country.

I can already imagine you trying to think of the difference, so I’ll give you an example. You couldn’t call someone from Spain a Latino, because Spain is nowhere near Latin America. Spanish people, however, are Hispanic because they do speak Spanish.

On the flip side, Brazilians are considered Latinos, although some prefer not to identify that way, because their country is located in Latin America. Yet, Brazilians don’t speak Spanish.

But that does mean some people can be both Hispanic and Latino. Did that confuse you?

Basically, every country in Latin America has Latinos. And of those countries, the ones who speak Spanish, with the addition of Spain, are considered Hispanic.

It may seem like an insignificant thing, but it just shows a level of cultural respect and understanding. I’m sure I don’t know a lot of things about cultures on the other side of the world, but if I moved to their proximity, I would make it my business to understand.

The problem is the United States shares a continent with all these Latin American countries, but many people only know the most stereotypical things about Mexico.

As the Spanish-speaking population grows in the United States, there’s been a lot of talk about immigration — especially illegal immigration. And there’s been a lot of hate toward Latinos in this election cycle, especially from Republican candidate Donald Trump.

But I think if people really took the time to learn about our cultures, they’d understand we’re not so different. If they took the time to understand what is happening in these countries that people feel the need to flee, maybe we’d look at immigration differently.

After all, it’s the American continent, so technically all of us — starting from the highest point in Canada to the lowest point in Argentina — are Americans, the U.S. just doesn’t get that yet.

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Gaby Morera, ’17, is a managing editor for The Brown and White and a native of Puerto Rico. She can be reached at [email protected]

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1 Comment

  1. As you point out, the term Hispanic refers to the Spanish influence. ‘Latino’, of course, refers to the ‘Latin’ influences. So both terms originate in settler colonialism and the efforts to erase the advanced indigenous cultures that preceded the invasion & conquest by Spain. And the indigenous culture and languages had powerful effects on the language as well — and contribute to the diversity among the different countries.

    I totally agree that people need to learn to appreciate people in the context of their cultures and not in terms of stereotypes and profiling.

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