On this blog, we have discussed the nature of Latino identity here and here, and it is certainly an inexhaustible topic. The mestizo, or mixed, nature of Latino identity means that Latinos can be all things- a basic definition of Latino could simply be someone with origins in a Latin American country (including Brazil). Yet many people have an idea of what a Latino should look and sound like- and what a Latino is based on his or her name. It is this last misconception I’d like to address.
Many people, including Latinos themselves, expect all Latinos to have typically Hispanic last names such as Garcia, Hernandez, Reyes, and Lopez. Yet the rich history of Latin America includes not just the colonization of native peoples by the Spanish, but in many cases, waves of immigration from all over the world. Argentina in particular received thousands upon thousands of immigrants at the end of the 19th century, at a rate similar to that of the United States. The resulting diversity is reflected in notable Latin Americans with varying heritages, including:
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (German father), Colombian singer Shakira Mebarak (Lebanese father), Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn (Irish descent), former Argentinean President Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants (in fact, three ex-Presidents of Ecuador were of Lebanese descent), former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori (Japanese parents), Mexican television actress Nailea Norvind (Danish mother), Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler (German Jewish ancestry), Academy Award-winning Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (of Polish Jewish descent), Uruguayan actress Barbara Mori (Japanese descent), Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam (Chinese/Afro-Cuban), the hero of the Chilean Independence movement, Bernardo O’Higgins (Irish descent), and well, the list could go on and on and on!
Don’t forget that Mexicans from the southern part of the country and many Guatemalans often have Mayan surnames, not Spanish, such as Guatemalan Nobel Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu.
So the next time you find yourself thinking, “Wait, he can’t be Latino, what about his name??”, remember the remarkable internal diversity within each Latin American country, and in this country as well. Latinos are a people of mixed race, and have every complexion, face and name under the sun.