By Sophie Foster
Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Flavio Rogerio Hickel, Jr. invited the campus community into a dialogue about what it means to be Latinx in the United States.
“Race, Politics, and Latinx Identity in the United States,” a talk hosted by Dr. Hickel in Litrenta Lecture Hall in the John S. Toll Science Center on Tuesday, Sept. 27, was the latest in a series of Latinx Heritage Month events planned to celebrate, recognize, and educate about the Latinx community at Washington College.
Dr. Hickel, who centered the event around his research and surveys regarding Latinx identity and experience, opened the conversation by asking attendees to consider the central question of what Latinx identity means in the U.S., and in what terms it can be defined.
Suggestions for criteria to base this definition around included Spanish fluency, geographic origin, phenotype, politics, religion, and cultural traditions such as food, music, and sports.
According to Dr. Hickel, however, these generalizations are fallible for an identity so subjective and complex. For example, not all who identify as Latinx speak Spanish, with many speaking Portuguese or English as their first language. Even geographic origin can be a difficult descriptor to quantify when bearing in mind that there is uncertainty regarding which countries should fall into that category — are Cubans Latinx, and if so, are Haitians?
These uncertainties are areas of interest for Dr. Hickel, who wants to make it evident that the “history of Latin American is one of mixed racial identities and colorism.”
Dr. Hickel views Latinx diversity as a topic innately rooted in the “meaningful national origin differences in language, food, politics, art, religion” and other cultural elements that particular groups align with. According to Dr. Hickel, national origin groups each have their own senses of community and identity that reflect individualized experiences of Latinx identity.
Particularly when considering political affiliation, a concept which the majority of Dr. Hickel’s work revolves around, he identifies notions of linked fate — the prioritization of the theoretical best interest of a group over the potential interests of individuals — as a key component of analyzing common Latinx political orientations and voting practices.
“We assume that there is a shared Latinx identity which reflects a rather monolithic conception of how Latinx should look, behave, and think,” Dr. Hickel said, indicating that this line of thinking could be a blind spot serving to generate resentment, build feelings of alienation, and call into question the authenticity of the identity of those in the Latinx community who vote opposite to the norm or the expectation, especially when roughly two-thirds of the Latinx American community tend to vote Democrat, according to Dr. Hickel.
Dr. Hickel views this oversight as one that encourages complacency from the Democratic party, which assumes the Latinx vote in its favor and, as a result, pushes “rhetoric and policy that fails to speak to the interests [and] concepts of Latinx subgroups.”
This line of thinking brought Dr. Hickel to the subject of racial identity invalidation, which he defined as “accusations of racial inauthenticity, imposition of racial categories, and forced choice dilemmas” that “can occur explicitly or implicitly due to appearance, behavior, or attitudes.”
Often, according to Dr. Hickel, racial identity invalidation can occur in tandem with horizontal hostility, a phrase that outlines divisiveness, prejudicial practices, and the sense of rejection among members of a shared community.
According to Dr. Hickel’s research, 47 percent of Latinx people surveyed reported having their identity questioned by a fellow Latinx person, while 53 percent reported having their identity questioned by a non-Latinx person.
While this trend of racial identity invalidation can be based on a number of factors, common reasoning includes a lack of Spanish language fluency, fundamental behavioral and social habits, and appearance or physicality, according to Dr. Hickel. It revolves around a belief that identity needs to be proven, but also a resentment of that belief.
Dr. Hickel concluded his talk with the reflection that “securing a more equitable future requires building coalitions within the Latinx community based on shared political visions of social justice, and this requires conceptualizing Latinidad for the diverse tapestry that it is rather than invalidating those who do not fit an essentialized image of Latinx identity.”
This event was not the last of Latinx Heritage Month at WC. Next on the schedule is the Latinx Student Union’s Loteria Night taking place tonight, Thursday, Oct. 6. Other events commemorating the occasion can be found at washcoll.edu under the title “Latinx Heritage Month.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. Flavio Hickel
Photo Caption: Dr. Hickel teaches political science courses to students at Washington College.