Jazmin Hernandez is a junior majoring in TV Production. This paper was inspired by her experience when she travels, she finds that when traveling she becomes a foreigner who doesn't know the area compared to the people who live there. She focuses on the ideas of identity and metaphysical borders that are created.
Immigrants that come from Central America don't tend to categorize themselves under the term "Hispanic” or “Latino." The majority identify with their country of origin, village, and community. This paper draws on the racialized assumptions Central Americans have experienced due to their Spanish-speaking ability or physical characteristics rather than their national identity. Additional research should be conducted on new “inner-city” destinations and comparative analysis on how they are racialized in the South compared to the West, such as in California. Central Americans do not like being categorized into the homogenous category, but display an acceptance to the term when they are in the United States. Even though Central Americans are categorized under “Hispanic/Latino,” they understand it is the way people in the U.S. views them, but it is not the way they view themselves. It is evident that an argument between self-identification and identity is seen throughout the paper. Central Americans have their own self-identification, but when they migrate to the United States their identity isn’t thought as valid. The way these individuals perceive themselves is different from how others view them because of their physical traits. Even if they decide to correct other people on their national identity, it does not guarantee them any better chances of acceptance.
Modern constructions of identity
By Jazmin Hernandez
On a Sunday afternoon I was sitting alone before mass began when I looked up and I saw my friends mom sitting by herself in the opposite side of the church. Ironically, earlier that day my friend posted on Snapchat that she was ready to come home and spend time with her friends and family. She attends California State University Channel Islands and dorms there. It was interesting to see that she wanted to go home and see her mother for the holidays. I couldn’t help but think how close she is, just a phone call away, yet how far away she is physically. The drive from Camarillo to the San Fernando Valley is around forty minutes, but her responsibilities of work and school stop her from coming home every weekend. Like the transnational migrants that come to America in search of the “American Dream”, they are miles away from home and also a phone call away. The borders that we have built to separate the United States from Mexico are not anatomical to the Earth, instead the government marked the territory by placing a boundary that is not natural. We are constantly migrating in our lives going from place to place where there are boundaries that we cross every day, even if it is driving to another city. These margins are known because of the display of territory signs or border control when crossing a different state. Not only are there physical borders, but mental fringes as well. There are mental barriers that are manufactured in people’s communities through identifying functions. The overall impact of this can cause migrants to question their self-identity, but identification is shaped through their transnational migration.
Reshaping Central American Identity
The technoscape has changed the way migrants connect with their families. It allows them to be with their family and communicate without them being physically present. Cell phones, computers, and social apps have allowed people to have a virtual bilateral communication. Apps like Skype or Facetime allow for families to cross transnational boundaries by using the internet and the video chat allows people to see each other’s faces. Now cellphones can be seen as a form of self-identification. People can customize their phone to their liking and download the apps they desire. This is part of the technoscape that has maintained social relationships through transnational borders. They can also personalize the external space of their phone to represent them. The idea of space and time is evident when communicating with distant family, by using modern technology it allows for people to be at two places at a time. Each interaction reconfirms, reinsures, and keeps families connected with each other. Although migrants that reside in the United States are not physically present in their country, the money they send back home demonstrates their hard labor and maintains their connection to their family. Their labor represents sacrifice and becomes a contribution to the economy of the region. The migrant’s physical labor in the United States provides them with the ability to send remittances that cross the physical borders in some way mirroring a physical part of themselves back into their country. Today, Central Americans have reshaped their identity in the United States. Migrants participate in their countries by sending remittances or clothes to their families back home. Gift giving was a common ritual that would serve as memories. This reinforces the person leaving their homeland identity as Salvadoran. People that left would receive gifts that would remind them of their homeland: cheese and coffee. The image of the migrant was seen as heroic because their remittances helped in the building of their nation and their identity became a symbol of power and support.
Identity in itself is fluid. People constantly change, whether it’s because of their past experience or current situation, different experiences and surroundings shape people. The Central American identity is heavily influenced by their politics and history which have shaped their existence today. The majority of Central Americans are generalized as “Mexican” because of their native language. Central Americans lose their background and become Mexicanized in the United States. As Yajaira M. Padilla states in "The Central American Transnational Imaginary: Defining the Transnational and Gendered Contours of Central American Immigrant Experience, "Individual and communal identities are being continuously defined and renegotiated” (151). Central American people tend to conform to invisibility or conform to the Mexicanization because of the violence or pain they experience from their own country. They are either hurt because of the situations their own country has placed them in, or do not want to be associated with the stereotypes associated with their people. During the 1970s/1980s when Central American migration increased, Central Americans were experiencing violence within their countries due to the wars in each country. Some lost family members while others’ lives were threatened.
Not only were these immigrants silenced in their own country, but they were also silenced in the United States by putting them into the hegemonic category of Mexican. It can be argued that because of the silencing experience they have encountered in their country, they have conformed, which creates a barrier between them and the violence they experienced in their country.
The power of self-identity is prevalent in the Central American community. Central Americans want to be recognized, but there is a fear that certain stereotypes would get put on them once they reveal their identity. A contradiction between their identities is evident. During the Central American wars migrants were forced to displace from their countries because they were seen as a threat to their own region in which they were not listened or taken accounted for as citizens. Transnational migrants that fled their regions opposed to the authoritarian society. Not only were these immigrants silenced in their own country, but they were also silenced in the United States by putting them into the hegemonic category of Mexican. It can be argued that because of the silencing experience they have encountered in their country, they have conformed, which creates a barrier between them and the violence they experienced in their country.
Central Americans in the South: Categories of "Hispanic" or "Latino"
Central Americans that migrate to California have a more accepting environment compared to those that settle in the South. Immigrants that come from Central America don't tend to categorize themselves under the term "Hispanic” or “Latino." The majority identify with their country of origin, village, and community. Racialized assumptions have been placed on Central Americans due to their Spanish speaking ability or physical characteristics rather than their national identity especially in Atlanta, Georgia. The term “Hispanic” or “Latino” can be seen as the umbrella term for the Central American community because they are a generalized into the category despite the fact that globalization over the years have cause a mixture of ethnicities in Central America. “These newcomers discover where they fit (and do not fit) in the contemporary racial structure and this recognition is fundamental to both their socio-spatial relations and their adjustment experiences.” (Yarbough) In contrast to voicing their nationalistic pride, the Central American community have come to somewhat accept the term Hispanic. Central Americans do not like being categorized into the hegemonic category, but have come to the acceptance of the term when they reside in the United States. Even though Central Americans are categorized under “Hispanic/Latino” they understand it is the way America views them, but it is not the way they view themselves and may resist it. The idea of self-identification and identity in this state would be different for the community. Their self- identity is the way they view themselves whether or not they agree with the umbrella term. The identity given to them is based on the way America has racialized them. Central Americans have their own self-identification, but when they migrate to the United States their identity isn’t valid, because they are not taken accounted for. The way the individuals perceive themselves is different from how others view them because other people would concentrate more on their physical traits. Whether or not Central Americans decide to correct other people on their national identity it does not guarantee them any better chances of acceptance in America because of the Mexicanized perspective.
Not only are there stereotypes of the pan-Latino ethnic community, but they are embedded by physical appearance. Social identity is derived from group membership and is mediated through institutions yet challenged by improvisation and creating new ways of being. Culture exclusion is evident through the racial stereotypes that are sustained by the nationalistic views in the United States. This is displayed when exclusions are based on social grounds and persist, “…Individuals and groups acquire particular racial identities along with their associated meanings, based primarily on skin tone and other physical features…” (Yarbough). Stereotypes of Latinos being brown prohibit them from being categorized into the “white” group. There are physical traits that society has imposed on certain racial/ethnic groups that imitates the way others see Latinos; thus, it influences how they see themselves as well.
Salvadoran Identity within the Umbrella of Terms
The second largest minority group that resides in California are Salvadorans. The experience of Salvadoran assimilation into Mexican culture occurs often within the United States because Americans have been structured to see Central Americans as the same as Chicanos or Mexican American. The largest Latino population consists of Mexican migrants. Through the media outlets a misrepresentation has been portrayed to the audience of who Central Americans and Mexicans are. Mexicans and Salvadorans experiences from social, economic, and culture have similarities in history. Mexicans and Central Americans also have the similarity that Spanish is the main language that is spoken in the Latino population. Theories like immigrants feeling like outcasts can lead to hostility or opposition between immigrant communities due to not feeling validated: “Struggles over space, employment, and representation in the city of Los Angeles bring about strained relationships between Mexicans and Salvadorans” (Osuna, 236). Both transnational migrants experience oppression from the United States which in turn creates competition between the groups for jobs and local resources. The groups share the conditions that have been constructed for them to face oppressive relations and racialized classist society. People of color face exploitation of capitalist society that in turn have taken advantage of the working-class population. Global capitalism is the pull factor that induces immigrants to migrate. Many migrants just want to improve their own living opportunities. Despite the tensions between Central Americans and Mexicans some communities identify with each other. The similar struggles within the Latino community can also provide solidarity with each other.
Now in the twentieth first century people are starting to pay more attention to the Central American population. This is due to the fact that they are the second largest minority in the United States. A form of resistance that the Central American community demonstrates is through their use of speech in Spanish. They use slang words like “vos” instead of “usted” which the majority of Mexicans would not use. When people bring their cultural traditions to America and practice them here it also demonstrates a form of resistance to the white supremacy in America. An example would be the youth Latinas and even some Latinos now going against the heteronormative in both American and Latino society celebrate their fifteen years coming of age known as Quincenera/o. People that participate in their community organizations like El Centro Latino that provide immigrants with educational programs. The transformation of a place over a period of time like Pico Union would be an example of resistance. In the early 1900s the majority of the people that lived around Pico Union were white. Mexican migrants then moved and changed the demographics of the area. As soon as Mexicans migrated to the area the wealthy white people decided to move out. Once the Mexican people dominated Pico Union, despite the discrimination and racism they felt at the time, the living space decreased and caused what is known to be the "white flight". After a while it became dominated by the Latino culture and many people started to set up their own business or restaurants around the area. Food is another form of tradition that is practiced in the United States and some people use their food as an important way to identify with their homeland. There could be many restaurants that provide pupusas, but each pupuseria will have their own style of making their traditional food and each one will taste differently. Another form of resistance besides being in group organizations is to teach the youth, known as the second or even third generations, where they come from. In a way to display their roots and to be able to create spaces where they can practice and promote their country. Not only will they learn about their parent’s history, but this will allow students to understand the diversity of Central Americans.
Barriers are prominent whether they are physically or mentally constructed and we are able to project the ideas within our own community. The idea of self-identification gives migrants a sense of inclusiveness. The idea of space and time is seen through the technoscape of modern technology. Modern technology has enabled distant families to connect crossing the artificial borders that have been marked by the government. People can communicate with their families and in a way be there for them when they need to be heard. Remittances are sent through the sacrifice and exploitation of the migrants that come to work. Identity is influenced by a countries politics which shapes their citizens. The power to identify or construct the identity of another racial group is given to the dominant society, or what is perceived to be dominant. The dominant society then continues to distort the knowledge about other nations to create categorization of other races. Ironically the United States, the land of freedom, equality, and opportunity has created this racialized hegemonic categories to penalize anyone whose physical characteristics match with a marginalized group without giving them proper representation.
Claudia, Milian. "Central American-Americanness, Latino/a Studies, and the Global South." Global South, the, 5.1 (2011): 137-152.
Osuna, S. "Intra-Latina/Latino Encounters: Salvadoran and Mexican Struggles and Salvadoran-Mexican Subjectivities in Los Angeles." Ethnicities 15.2 (2015): 234-54. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Parker, Karen F, and Richard Stansfield. "The Changing Urban Landscape: Interconnections Between Racial/Ethnic Segregation and Exposure in the Study of Race-Specific Violence Over Time." American Journal of Public Health, 105.9 (2015): 1796.
Padilla, Yajaira M. "The Central American Transnational Imaginary: Defining the Transnational and Gendered Contours of Central American Immigrant Experience." Latino Studies 11.S2 (2013): 150-66. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.
Yarbrough, Robert. "Becoming 'Hispanic' in the 'New South': Central American Immigrants' Racialization Experiences in Atlanta, GA, USA." GeoJournal, 75.3 (2010): 249-260.