You know that moment we all have when you check your Facebook or Twitter and everyone is commenting about one thing? This happened to me last week as the Latino world of social media was abuzz, sadly announcing the death of celebrated Mexican author Carlos Fuentes. I had a moment of pause seeing all of my friends post and thought- “Umm, who is Carlos Fuentes?” I quickly read several articles and found out, but was left with a familiar feeling of “not being Latino enough.” All of this brings me to the question of the week, “how much of our culture do we need to know?”
In my defense, I am not Mexican and was raised in the U.S. so my ignorance of a great Latin American author who wrote in Spanish is understandable. But still I received a snarky reply from a younger friend who has a degree in Latin American studies when I mentioned I didn’t know who Carlos was. In a moment of pure verbal retribution I changed subjects and asked them what they knew about the revised Dream Act legislation that Senator Marco Rubio was going to introduce. To which they replied, “I hadn’t heard about it.” This left me with a sense of intellectual validation; but I digress.
Over the years I have done a great deal of public speaking and always make an effort to be funny. As I speak to diverse groups of people I have found that connecting with your audience, especially with humor, is often a matter of affinity. What a 22-year-old Latino male finds funny is not the same as a 65- year-old white suburban grandmother. But there are ways of bridging the gap through affinity and the same rule applies with culture.
I discovered the Mexican rock group Mana three years ago because a friend told me they were the Latin American “U2.” The same was true for Caifanes after someone said they were like “The Cure.” While today “Flan” is served with no other description in many Spanish restaurant, I remember my family telling me it was “caramel custard” to get me to try it; and I’m so glad I did. From food, to music, to literature, often it was points of affinity that were made that introduced me to my Latino culture.
Today we see the growth of a new generation of predominately English-speaking Hispanics who are redefining what it means to be Latino. To judge them on their cultural knowledge would be unfair to their upbringing and a strategic mistake. It’s like making someone feel bad because they haven’t heard of Jay-Z, rather than turning on your iPod to make them understand why they should. So when it comes to cultural knowledge as a test of your Latina/o street cred, there really is no fair level. Rather we should have a simple desire and always try to learn more.
“Oye mi amor”- while culture can be taught; it is best when it is shared.
[Photo by Casa de America]