By David Conde
Identity Politics is a term that has been defined “as a tendency of people sharing a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social or cultural identity to form exclusive political alliances, instead of engaging in traditional-based party politics, or promote their particular interests without regard for interests of a larger political group.” The term became important in the 1960s and 1970s as observers attempted to understand the civil rights movements and their “conscious-raising and collective action…used against cultural imperialism, violence, exploitation of labor, marginalization or powerlessness.”
It appears that this is the game being played in both the Republican and Democratic Parties as 2020 approaches. Republicans under Trump have adopted the mantra of White Nationalism as an exclusive political weapon of choice.
Elements of the Democratic Party are in the same camp as being Black and being a woman puts candidates into an exclusive club. It is so exclusive that Senator Pamela Harris of California has had to justify her “Blackness” as a qualification for her candidacy.
Latinos were generally in that mindset especially in the second part of the 20th century. The increasing diversity in the carriers of their political voice however, has caused great changes and more openness in this regard.
In its earliest form, Latinos in America identified more closely with Spain in the greater New Mexico, Florida and Louisiana and perhaps California regions and Mexico in broad areas of the Southwest. Most afflicted by Manifest Destiny in this area was the Mexican population that lost everything and over time, was marginalized to the point of becoming ignored and forgotten bodies without place or identity.
They existed in whispers of colloquial Spanish words that uttered the weight of the world. Their specialty was the agricultural fields of the countryside where they labored with their eyes pointed down to a slow-moving ground and the plants it held.
Their first real engagement with the rest of society was the life and death struggle that was World War II. Their epic bravery and struggle in defending America surely meant something.
It was those, mostly Mexican Americans that survived combat and came home that sought greater visibility and participation in the affairs of the country. The denial of the rights available to all Americans caused the whispers to become cries for justice and fair play.
Out of this marginalization came identity politics and the movements on which it was based.
What was initially an American patriotic effort led by organizations like the American GI veterans organization evolved later into the Chicano Movement and its identity politics.
It became clear from the beginning that the Chicano Movement was an exclusive set of organizations of activists and believers. In time however, the map has expanded beyond the Southwest to include a Latino presence from coast to coast and a Latino diversity that encompasses Spanish sir-named immigrants from nations in North, Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
The terminology has also changed as well from Mexican American to Chicano to Latino as the community has come to represent a rich racial, ethnic, religious and cultural manifestation on the upside of history. Racially, Latinos go from Black people all the way to Whites and everything in-between.
What Latinos have in common are a language and cultural base and the notion that they are Mestizos born in the Americas and destined to be their custodians. Because diversity describes what it is to be an American, it can surely be said that Latinos represents its true face.