Silvio Torres-Saillant, associate professor of English and director of the Latino-Latin American Studies program at Syracuse University, spoke at the University of Massachusetts to honor Latino Heritage Month.
His lecture on On Oct. 15, titled "Latino/a Pluralities: Ways to Imagine the Community," took place in the Campus Center.
He began by discussing his objective of the lecture, which was to examine how the Latino culture is essentially bulked into one ethnicity despite its great diversity.
Torres-Saillant then went on to discuss how the category Latino/Hispanic came to exist in the U.S. consensus.
Due to the successes of the civil rights movement, certain laws pertaining to racial equality needed to be established and the U.S. government in turn felt that a structure needed to be set up, according to Torres-Saillant. As a result, in 1977 there were five main categories established consisting of four races: American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian-Pacific Islander, Black/African-American, White, and Latino.
Torres-Saillant questioned these categories, especially that of the Latino ethnicity, by asking how one categorizes people, and assume that it was done accurately. He added that during the 1990s various groups strongly protested to the categories established and wished them to be changed.
He then proceeded to talk about the instances where these protests occurred throughout the country.
The National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans requested that the peoples of Laos and Cambodia be included under the Asian/Pacific Islander. The Arab-American institute argued that the Middle Eastern category should be removed under the White category and be under its own "protected" entity. Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka (D-Hawaii) suggested that the native Hawaiian be moved from the Asian/Pacific Islander category to American Indian/Alaskan Native.
In response, it became acceptable, starting in 2000, to pick more than one category. It has been determined that since then, only 2.6 percent of the U.S. population fits into more than one category.
Torres-Saillant then began to explain that the Latino/Hispanic category lumps many different cultures and peoples who have lots of variation in ancestry due to numerous migration movements throughout history.
Torres-Saillant asked, "Where is the commonality?"
He added that contrary to initial thoughts, Latino/Hispanic culture isn't necessarily Spanish because, depending on the country, there are indigenous peoples with native languages that are not Spanish. For example, Brazil's native language is Portuguese.
He proposed the idea that since the U.S. government needed to categorize people solely to implement a particular policy, this ethnic label should be used only when needed.
But then another question came up: "What is the term good for?" Torres-Saillant made it clear that just because the term isn't accurate, that doesn't mean that it should be completely eliminated, but rather seen as a "common set of socio-political aspirations."
He also talked about how Latinos are not portrayed in the media, like most minorities, in the best light.
According to Torres-Saillant, there is not much diversity, in American. media and in Latin American media as well, most of the people are, or at least look, white. And, Torres-Saillant said, with what diversity there is, there is still a "lack of depth" and the media often resorts to showing only brief, easy stereotypes, making the youth more vulnerable to the media's perceptions of their identity.