Vamos dar as caras! (Let’s show up!)
“Imagine if it were us throwing a party about latinidad.”
This was my friend’s response upon learning that Tufts’ Latinx Center (LC) had hosted “Taste of Brazil,” a party organized by nonprofit Potencia to celebrate Brazilian culture during this year’s Tufts Global Month. Chaos ensued in the Brazilian Student Association WhatsApp group chat. None of us had been invited to the event; we were not even approached to help with the programming. How can latinidad, the shared cultural identity of Latinx peoples, be celebrated by dismissing the experiences of a subset of Latinxs? Lots of laughs followed my friend’s response: he had spoken to how so many Brazilian Jumbos feel about the Latino community at Tufts. It wants and tries to include us, but it does not always succeed in doing so.
That is because, ultimately, there is ambivalence among Brazilian and Latino communities about whether Brazilians are Latinos or not. This hesitancy prevents many Brazilians from connecting with other students of Latin American origin or using resources provided by the LC. We don’t feel welcome at Bolles House, despite the sumptuous Brazilian flag hung in its living room. But if we want to make the LC more welcoming to our community and to non-Hispanic Latinos overall, we must own our Latino identities by making ourselves present in this space—by attending events, joining committees, and communicating with the LC’s administration.
Much of Brazilian Jumbos’ hesitancy to participate in the LC is rooted in unclear understandings of the term “Latino.” Let’s address the (Portuguese-speaking) elephant in the room: I am a Brazilian who identifies as Latina and believes Brazilians should be allowed to claim Latino identity. My stance conflicts with the US Census’ definition of “Hispanic/Latino” as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” That is, people who come from countries where Spanish isn’t spoken, like Brazil, cannot officially claim Latino identity.
However, contrary to the logic of the US Census, some scholars find that Brazilians get labeled as Hispanic/Latino in the United States. This is because many US natives identify others as Hispanic/Latino based on evaluations of their geographic origin, language, and racial presentation—in other words, if you hail from somewhere below the US-Mexico border and both sound and look Latino, you will likely be classified as such.
In discussing Latino identities, it’s also crucial to understand the etymology of the terms “Latin America” and “Latino.” “Latin America” was a label created in 1836 by French statesman Michel Chevalier, who aimed to unify colonized peoples under a “Latin” identity. The history of “Latin America” and “Latino” as identifiers is, thus, a history of whiteness and colonialism in the subcontinent. On one hand, the category of “Latino” was founded as an instrument of white supremacy in our region to further colonize through pseudo-scientific racism. This championed the alleged moral and technical superiority of white colonizers against “inferior” native and enslaved peoples. On the other hand, Latin Americans (re)claiming their Latino identity resignifies this label as a symbol of our shared past of colonization, slavery, and decolonial struggle. Considering oneself Latino, as a Brazilian, is, therefore, an act of pan-ethnic solidarity. It is through this unanimity and by making new meanings out of a once-imposed identity that we will begin to overcome our legacy of colonialism. Latinos, regardless of national origin, must not destroy this potential for solidarity-building through cultural gatekeeping.
Solidarity, nonetheless, isn’t achieved by symbolically subscribing to latinidad. Brasileiros, precisamos dar as caras—Brazilians must show up to the LC. Indeed, its events are more geared toward Hispanic cultures and traditions; its communications play around with Spanish words, not Portuguese ones. But how will these practices change if we continue criticizing them from afar? Attend events; suggest Brazil-inspired ones; live in the Latinx Culture House; get involved with the LC’s leadership; join the Association of Latin American Students; become an LC peer leader. If the predominant use of Spanish in the LC makes us feel ostracized, we shall color the space with our Português.
I am not proposing we individualize a collective problem, but that we spearhead the cultural changes needed for enhanced institutional action in the LC. After all, as non-Hispanic Latinos, we comprehend our needs in ways that Hispanics and the Center’s entirely Hispanic administration don’t. How can they promote effective change without knowing there are changes to be made? Instead of waiting for institutional action, I suggest we invest more time in getting to know and participating in Tufts’ Latino community because spaces like the LC exist precisely for individuals who share identities to be together.
Hispanic spaces must be preserved; however, doing so isn’t antithetical to striving for Brazilian inclusion in Latino circles. Creating more opportunities for these students through the LC can provide them resources—from funding to social networks and support systems—they may not find elsewhere. These are particularly crucial in a predominantly white institution like Tufts, where over 60 percent of the student body is white and less than nine percent is Hispanic/Latino.
Though I cannot speak for other Jumbos, identity-based centers are the few places on campus where I can let my guard down, stay in touch with my culture, and connect with those who share similar backgrounds. This holds true for a majority of Brazilian Jumbos because while most of us are white-presenting, we don’t subscribe to the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) majority’s culture that is hegemonic at Tufts. While we must acknowledge our privileges as white-presenting people, it is also important to remember there may be aspects of our identities that we share with other students of Latin American ancestry and not with our WASP peers. The LC might be one of many spaces on campus where we can reconnect with our identities. It isn’t a silver bullet, but it can surely help some Jumbos find their herd and expand their understanding of their identities.Showing up to the Latinx Center and advocating for more programming for Brazilians and non-Hispanics will certainly help make the center more welcoming to all Latinos. However, we cannot stop there; we must dismantle long-standing institutions of colonialism and whiteness—including mainstream notions of “Latin America” and “Latino”—that continue to oppress Latin American peoples.