Ted Cruz has formally announced that he will be running for President of the United States. Not a joke.
Already, part of the rallying cry (soft and distant perhaps) is that Ted Cruz is Latino – actually, not Latino, but Hispanic, the Uncle Sam concoction of a word that is used on our Census documents. But is Ted Cruz actually Latino-Hispanic?
Ted Cruz was born in Canada, to a Cuban father and Mother of US Citizenship. Thus, he was granted upon his birth US Citizenship, and held dual nationality between the US and Canada until he renounced his Canadian citizenship. Now, as for his “Hispanic” identity, surely one can say with confidence that he is Hispanic-Latino given that his father is Cuban – so by extension, Ted Cruz is Cuban-American, right?
The answer to the question of Ted Cruz being Hispanic-Latino is complicated – and my answer is not going to sit well with some.
Ted Cruz is not Hispanic/Latino. Here is why.
Identity is one that is self imposed, but it is also imposed by others whom you exist relative to and society at large. I am as I see myself, but I am also as others see me. Although Ted Cruz may self identify as Hispanic (I am sure he would be hesitant to call himself Latino – political navigation) he is most certainly not read as such. This is how race comes into the picture.
As the Latino/Hispanic is understood within the American (USA) imaginary, a complex one, Ted Cruz, while in essence a Latino-Hispanic, is not “really” Latino-Hispanic because of his socio-economic status, because of his politics, because of his legal status, because of his accent, because of his “patriotism”, and most importantly, because of his white skin. [note: American Imaginary as in the capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative, white gaze]
This is a painful truth for those of us in the Latino Diaspora who have white skin. See, wether we like it or not, those of us who do have white skin and appear white (me not being one) are the beneficiaries of white privilege, because in the USA, we live in a racial caste system. That is not to say that the White Latino-Hispanic cannot be racialized in other ways. For example, you may have white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, but the second someone learns your name, lets say, Enrique Gonzalez, you are immediately othered and exotoicized. Your accent, if not sounding “American”, can racialize you. The way you dress can suddenly super impose on you the Latino-Hispanic label, simultaneously stripping you of the ability to claim being “American”.
But Ted Cruz, while he is undoubtedly racialized given his last name, has an even more complex relationship with the Latino-Hispanic identity. His “Latinidad” stems from his father being Cuban. And this affords him a particular type of privilege. As a Cuban-American, Ted Cruz has a much different status than other Latino-Hispanics, as his Cuban identity almost overshadows his shared identity with the rest of the American continent and other US (or Canadian) born Latino-Hispanics. Cuban-Americans, or perhaps better said, American-Cubans, hold a privileged position in the eyes of Uncle Sam, as they are the “better” Latino, for they embraced capitalism and freedom (as they are stateside and not in their motherland), for they vocally denounce the Communism and Dictatorship of the Castro Brothers and present day Cuba (for the most part). Ted Cruz is of the Latino-Hispanic stock Uncle Sam likes, not the undocumented (or as they say, illegal) Mexicans that are corroding our health care system, having baby after baby, and stealing all the jobs.
Racial and ethnic identity has everything to do with how you are perceived, and in the US, linked to the color of your skin. I am sure Ted Cruz was never asked for his “documents” while in Texas or the American Southwest, as his children will never be asked (or his wife) to prove their citizenship. I am sure he was never stopped and frisked like the thousands of Black and Brown (Latino-Hispanic) youth in New York City. I am sure Ted Cruz never had to worry about his Father being deported while he was at school and coming home to an empty house. I am sure Ted Cruz was and still is the beneficiary of white privilege.
I do not mean to essentialize Latino-Hispanics or Cubans, but as Latinos, as Hispanics, as [insert country of origin or country of heritage here], we must come face to face, as painful as it may be, with how we navigate our social spaces, especially in the United States, but more importantly, reflect how race influences that navigation. We have a serious problem when it comes to dealing with our Anti-Blackness and confronting how we value our Whiteness at the cost of every other part of our identity. The diaspora is rich in diversity, but we do not embrace that diversity with open arms.
My stance, that Ted Cruz isn’t Latino because of his whiteness which is related to his Cuban heritage, is a political one. I would say this to him to highlight that to be Latino-Hispanic in the United States of America is to be “illegal”, to be a spic, to be a wetback, to be a moocher, to steal jobs, to only be good enough to be your maid, your gardner, your nanny. To be me is to be hyper sexualized deviant, gang-banging, broken english speaking, spicy, exotic, brown kid from Mexico. And the way racism works is that the second I am not all of these things, I lose my “Latinidad” and become white, because only White people can win prestigious scholarship, speak proper english, be 23 and not have a child, and be a US citizen – I can’t really be a Latino, even though my brown skin says otherwise – and when racism can’t reconcile my brown skin and “white” characteristics, I become the neoliberal “exception”, where I am the poster child for my people where the tagline reads “If He can do it, you can do it too”.