In-between Identities: Race and Ethnicity in the American Context
Soon after arrival in the United States, immigrants find they are asked to choose between competing political spheres -- one centered on their immediate surroundings, the other on their countries of origin. Each of these spheres demands fealty. Immigrants often refuse both. Instead, they seek alternatives, routes of escape, to alleviate or avoid these pressures. Many try to find this escape in the strategic manipulation of their own identities. Immigrants' adoption of a common identity with other immigrants gives them a sphere of their own in which to act, at least somewhat insulated from the political spheres that seek to claim them. But the identities immigrants adopt are not themselves unconstrained. In this chapter I describe how these, too, are structured by the two political spheres.
On arrival in this country Latin American immigrants are grouped together by the state -- along with Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, some of whom have been here for generations -- as "Hispanics" and labeled "minorities." This group identification is reflected in part in the language used by the immigrants themselves. People talk about la comunidad latina (the Latino community), or about being hispano or Latinoamericano. But it it isn't clear what communalities really exist among Latinos beyond this language. Do Hispanic immigrants have an ethnic identity apart from that assigned to them by the state?