From the third grade through college, I never attended a school in San Diego where 98 percent of the student body looked like me and/or spoke anything but English. I had no peers. I was called a “wetback” more times than I could count.
Funny, nowadays Mexicans are surprised when I tell them I was born in Mexico.
In that I shared the experience of African Americans, who have been called many epithets over the years. Those epithets were eventually overwhelmed by American media, politics and business.
We, who were formally called “wetbacks,” are now being dictated to by American progressives, liberals, social and political activists to change the words “Hispanic” and “Latino,” which refer to the 60 million-plus people in America who have ethnic or cultural roots in Latin America or Spain. These language bullies are trying to force the 60-million plus to call themselves the allegedly “gender-free” LatinX.
I reject “LatinX,” just as I reject those who are trying to convince America to abandon “Hispanic” or “Latino.” I am not alone.
First, some history.
Before President Richard Nixon’s election in 1968, recognition of the growing population of American ethnic and/or cultural Spanish-speakers was to round-up and deport Mexicans who managed to live in the USA without a “green card” or citizenship by process or birth, mostly in California, Arizona and Texas. Notorious round-ups of “illegal aliens” in the early 1930s in Los Angeles were called “repatriation.” Over-eager Los Angeles police officers backed by Border Patrol agents without orders rounded up thousands of people, loaded them in cattle cars and shipped them 150 miles south to Tijuana, Mexico, even if they were U.S. citizens. Contrary to legend, President Herbert Hoover never gave orders for the round-ups and deportations.
In 1954, the term “wetback” became official under “Operation Wetback,” which was implemented by President Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The department rounded up Mexicans living in the U.S. without permission. The government lied about the program’s efficacy. Some Mexicans were deported. Many came back immediately because Mexican labor was prized in California, Arizona and Texas. It still is.
President Nixon was elected in 1968. One of his first actions as president was to move the Committee on Opportunities for Spanish Speaking People to the White House. A bureaucrat in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Grace Flores-Hughes, inserted the word “Hispanic” into meetings of HUD executives to substitute for “Chicano,” and it took hold. Nixon’s “Hispanic” overcame the words “Latino” and “Chicano” in the media.
Until, that is, Los Angeles Times reporter Frank del Olmo — one of the paper’s first Hispanic reporters — convinced the paper’s editorial executives they should stop using words from the Nixon White House for the Spanish-speaking community. (Del Olmo used to brag that his mother wouldn’t let the LA Times in the house because it was so conservative and anti-Mexican. She despised Republicans, and so did he.) As a result, the paper adopted the term “Latino.” After del Olmo’s death, Americans began using “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably.
Today, academics, activists and man-hating women are pushing Americans to use “LatinX” as a “gender-neutral” term.
That’s baloney. I finally arrived at a place where I can use “Latino,” which is already a genderless term capable of describing both men and women. For those who prefer it, “Latina” can be used exclusively for women.
For those in my community, “Hispanic” refers to educated, hard-working members of the middle and upper classes, who may use English more than Spanish. “Latino” refers to less educated, blue-collar, hard-working people whose children may be bilingual but who will abandon Spanish by the third generation.
“LatinX,” on the other hand, means nothing. It is literally rejected by up to 98 percent of the population it is intended to name. That’s a good thing. It’s as terrible as “colored” or “people of color.” Americans should enthusiastically, and proudly, reject it.
Raoul Contreras is the author of “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” He formerly wrote for the New York Times’ New America News Service.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.