Latino Cultural Citizenship

Latino Cultural Citizenship by William V. Flores and Rina Benmayor

by María Valdovinos

Chapter 2 of Latino Cultural Citizenship, titled The World We Enter When Claiming Rights, discusses how Latinos view their rights. There are two conflicting ideas; that of culture as it relates to the legal system and culture as it relates to a sense of community. To be a part of American society, it seems that one must give up their culture to assimilate, resulting in a confused identity of neither being full American or fully part of their original culture (Mexican in this case). Moreover, assimilation disbands communities, and the Mexican culture feels very strongly about a community. Their strength to stand up for their rights lies in community.

“The American legal system requires one to give up a full personhood to gain another-hence, to make a choice between national citizenship is critical to our sense of participation. Anglo society says that assimilation is a requirement of full participation” (48).

“Full citizenship lacks culture, and those most culturally endowed lack full citizenship” (43).

In order to fully participate and be an “American” in the American society, one is almost forced to move from cultural citizenship to legal citizenship and form new identity, otherwise he/she would be regarded as an “alien,” “Mexican,” or “immigrant.” Lations’claim to the conflicts of cultural citizenship and legal citizenship is that, firstly, the legal system assumes that in spite of profound cultural differences, American society can be identified as an homogenous entity and that, secondly, a recognition of culture rights is absent from the American constitutional system. Thus many Latinos are in this dilemma as to remain “Mexican” or to assimilate to “American” and have been fighting for gaining culture rights.

William V. Flores, the author of the second essay, uses himself as an example of not knowing where one is from. His parents were born in the U.S. therefore; he is third generation Mexican-American. “But in my elementary school teachers often referred to the white kids as the ‘Americans’ versus the ‘Mexican’ or ‘Chinese.’ The point was lost on me. I was ‘Mexican’ even though I was born in the U.S., had never been part of Mexico other than Baja, and spoke very little Spanish” (256). What happens, then, when we are not “fully accepted or welcomed in either world” (257)? “Nepantla” is a Nahuatl term that describes one’s identity being in between “American” and “Mexican.” The author says, “We are both and we are neither” (257).

He also talks about how they should have equal rights since they pay for taxes just like other Americans. For example, they wanted the state to provide bilingual education for their children because language is an important aspect of their culture and is their identity.

“…but rather whether all parents, citizens or not, should have the right to have a determination in the government bodies of their local schools. Moreover, undocumented workers pay taxes without representation. ..Should they as parents not then have the right to vote? In fighting to extend voting rights, Latinos extended both parents’ rights and the rights of the undocumented” (260).

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