Fear of a Latin Planet

An African American's advice to our soon-to-be largest minority group

| January/February 2002


Dear Latin Americans:

I got the idea to write this letter after seeing the Puerto Rican Day Parade on TV this summer. Nothing struck me as different about the event until a Latina announcer commented, 'In five years, Latin Americans will be the largest minority group in America, 13 percent—surpassing African Americans.'

'Damn!' I thought with a slight but concerned smirk, 'Where’s that gonna leave us?'

I pondered the thought of African America’s shifting relationship with the mainstream. Would Hollywood replace the buffooning, politically nonthreatening black sidekick used in buddy flicks with a Hispanic counterpart? Would black people no longer have exclusive access to that great political and economic tit called White Guilt?

But my thoughts and concerns were only fleeting because, priding myself on being progressive, I realized that things change. So I decided, in good faith, to write you a note. Sort of a passing on of wisdom from the old guard to the new.



First: Don’t change the name of your group every 15 to 20 years. You’ve progressed from Spanish to Hispanic to the more appropriate Latin American. Stick with that. Changing labels only confuses matters and reeks of cultural and social schizophrenia. And it’s embarrassing when outsiders start asking, 'What are youze people calling yourselves now?' Hell, just look at our dizzying trek through names—from Colored to Negro to Ethiopians (if you were down with Marcus Garvey), Asiatic (if you were down with Elijah Muhammad), to black to Afro-American to Nubian to African American. Oh, and don’t forget nigger (which wasn’t our idea), or nigga. Bottom line: Simplicity and consistency work.

Next: Copyright all jargon, colloquialisms, and slang terms you invent. Pop culture works from the bottom up, and it usually draws its language from African-based minorities. Protect yourself and get the whole enchilada. (Hey! You may want to start with that one.) If the terms hit big, you get paid. If they stay local, at least you retain control. God knows we’d be gazillionaires had we just copyrighted things like rock ’n’ roll, jazz, rappin’, booya! and that greeting for the 21st century, Wuzzuuuuup!