Have you ever shopped at Wal-mart, Food Lion or the Piggly Wiggly and found yourself on a mission to locate the Spanish aisle? You finally ask an employee to lead you to the “Spanish” aisle and immediately, you find yourself on aisle 6 with the Mexican food products.
The clerk never fails to whip out the “isn’t it all the same thing” reply followed by my, “Sorry, I don’t mean Mexican items, I mean Spanish…umm, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Nicaraguan” and then you get that shoulder shrug and “I thought it was all the same thing” response.
What about the moment someone hears your accent and (if you’re brown or dark skinned) the first question thrown at you is, “What are you? Dominican? Panamanian? Cuban?” I used to become annoyed at the inferences, but now I just correct them.
I used to think it was total insensitivity, but now I realize that some people really don’t know or understand the differences. Back in 1994, the Hispanic population in Onslow County wasn’t nearly what it is today. Back then, migrant workers flocked to the area seasonally. Today, thousands live and work here all year around. With this change, stores like Wal-mart and Food Lion added aisles marked “Hispanic” and stocked them with a lot of items all Hispanics do not use except Mexicans and Americans who love Mexican food.
For awhile that was okay because we had mercados like Mi Casita on Henderson Drive that sold just about everything from several Latin American cultures: Mexico to Puerto Rico to Colombia. Sgt. Major Deleon carried it all. I could shop at Mi Casita and buy whatever I needed to make an entire meal from my country.
Our flags may look similar. Our skin may be similar in color. Our language may be similar as is our enunciation of certain words, but we’re different and we celebrate those differences that makes us who we are. To us, it’s obvious. To you, there may be slight confusion. So know that it’s polite to ask.
Like any other culture, we have mixed our blood and therefore our skintomes range from Brown (Morena), Cinnamon/Brown (Canela), Olive (Trigueño) and Dark White (Blanca Oscura). So, indeed, we are a colorful, spicy people, but we’re still different.
The best comparison I can make to this is people in England, Australia and even Jamaica who speak English but in different dialects. Jamaicans speak Patios. The British speak proper English as do people in Australia. This doesn’t mean they are all alike or eat the same exact foods or share the same cultures. The UK, Australia and Jamaica are worlds apart in how they live.
Yes, we do speak Spanish but we are a diverse make-up of people, with different cultures, traditions and foods that clearly distinguish us from one another. Once the manager at Food Lion understood this, he had me make out a list of the items customary to my particular Hispanic culture and ordered them to stock his shelves. Many of us were pleased!
Yes, many Latinos share some similar heritage, but there are several other things that make us different and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that we feel we are better nor does the fact that we correct you when you assume our heritage or that we’re “all alike” make us bigots.
Colombian culture is beautiful and exotic steeped in diverse ancestry. About 75 percent of Colombians are of mixed heritage. We have Zambos who are of African and Amerindian ancestry and live primarily on the Caribbean coast, the historical center of the slave trade. Mestizos who are of European and Amerindian ancestry, Mulattoes make up 16 percent of the population. Our official language is Spanish except our indigenous populous in the Amazonian basin. In major cities English is spoken, but many of the older Colombianos take pain-staking measures to preserve Castilian Spanish.
Dominicans like some Boricuas and Cubanos were born of a Taino, Arawak and Spanish fusion that make them so colorful and passionate.
Mexico’s lengthy, beautiful history has been in existence for hundreds of centuries and many Mexicans have had a direct hand in helping build the United States. Much of their ancestral fusion is derived of Aztec and Spanish blood.
Hondurans like Nicaraguans have a high Mestizo population, Honduras topping out at ninety percent.
About nine percent of Nicaraguans are Afro-Nicaragüense and like Afro-Colombianos, they reside on the country’s sparsely populated Caribbean or Atlantic coast. About 17% are of Spanish and French descent.
I would get into the differences and similarities of our foods and traditions, but I think I made my point.
All across America, Hispanics from all over Central America, South America, as well as the Caribbean are co-existing in marrying and pro-creating. And though the times have brought us closer, there is still a difference amongst us. There is no hatred for other Hispanic cultures, just a difference which we respect while we try to know one another. Our different cuisines separate us about as much as our different enunciations, accents and countries.
The different cuisines that make us who we are, like Arroz con Pollo, Burritos, Empanadas, Chorizo, Arepas, Cassavas, Mofongo, Salchichas, Quenepas, Alcapurrias, Enchiladas, Gallo Pinto, Pollo encebollado, Nacatamales and Ceviche, are our own…and while we are open to embracing the differences from other Hispanic cultures…we take great pride in preserving our own. It’s what makes the world go around: Diversity.