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Excerpted From: Gloria Sandrino-Glasser, Los Confundidos: De-conflating Latinos/as' Race and Ethnicity, 19 Chicano-Latino Law Review 69 (Spring 1998) (406 Footnotes) (Full Document)


latinxlawreviewAs the poem above illustrates, the Latino/a identity in the United States consists of multiple national and racial identities, which are often conflated or fused, but nevertheless essential parts of the whole. The conflation's residue is confusion: to isolate, to disempower, and oppress. Its Legacy: Los Confundidos.

In the poem, two Latinas, a mother and daughter, affirm and construct their Latina identity, with its rich racial and cultural mix, while deconstructing the popular myths of the dominant culture. The conversation illustrates the conflation of Latinos' race and nationality, with one woman referring to race and the other to nationality. The confusion is obvious; but the conceptual and ideological mixtures that underlie the confusion are powerful. As Suzanne Oboler notes, “reading [this] poem, one is struck by the ways in which both self (I am what I am) and other (I am not what I am not) are fundamental to the construction of the identities of these individual Latinas--and, one might say, to the ethos of the (Latino) group.” E. Ortega and N. Saporta-Sternbach argue that “[i]n constructing herself as a subject, a Latina must dismantle the representation of stereotypes of her self, constructed, framed and projected by the dominant ideology.”

This Article explores the conflation of Latinos' race and nationality in American law and society. Like the poem above, this Article attempts to expose the conflation of these two constructs, from its historical roots to its present formalized and institutionalized status, to demonstrate the way the dominant culture has utilized the conflation to homogenize, and thus negate, marginalize, and silence Latinos.

The conflation of Latinos' race and nationality illustrates how the dominant culture has used and continues to use its power to attempt to define and dominate the “Others.” In America, the rules that define “race” have been white rules, “even though African-American culture has had a great, though generally unacknowledged, impact on white culture and perhaps on concepts of race as well.” Thus, these rules have always existed in a black/white paradigm. As such, when these rules have been and continue to be applied to Latinos, the dominance/subordination process nurtures the conflation in an effort to dominate and oppress. As Frank Valdes says in his thoughtful and powerful work on the conflation of sex, gender, and sexual orientation: “[the conflation] creates and reinforces artificial and oppressive dictates and distinctions that affect all of us.”

The identification and deconstruction of the conflation and its effect on law and society is significant because of growing numbers of Latinos in American society. Latinos are currently the fastest-growing segment of the United States population, numbering almost 22.8 million in the early 1990s. A systematic demographical examination of Latinos reveals a high rate of population increase, from 6.4% of the population in 1980 to 9% by 1990 (see Table below). This is a result of above average rates of immigration and reproduction during the last two decades. It is expected that by the year 2005 the Latino population will be the largest minority population in the United States.

This Article will focus on the three largest Latino subpopulations: Mexican-Americans, mainland Puerto Ricans, and Cuban-Americans. Although Latinos are often united by language and culture, the population is far from monolithic. Thus, the discourses emerging from each of these different nationalities and spates of migrations are vitally different. The concept of monolithic “pan- Hispanism,” so vigorously espoused by the dominant culture, does not do justice to this diversity. The use of the conflationary term “Hispanic” to categorize Latinos distorts the origin and roots of these populations, preventing and excusing the dominant culture from understanding, acknowledging, and taking into account all the complexities of the Latino culture.

The conflation emerged in nineteenth century America, with the incorporation of the first Latino subpopulations in American society. In 1848 and in 1898, respectively, part or all of the Mexican and Puerto Rican national territory was confiscated as a result of expansionist policies of the United States. Early literary accounts by Anglo-Americans describe the Mexicans as lazy and backward, attributing their lack of intelligence and motivation to the Mexican “race.” By the twentieth century, these conflationary images were formalized by government agencies and scientific institutions, and most importantly by the United States Census, with the creation of the label “Hispanic.”

The impact of the conflation of Latinos' race and nationality on American law and society is not subtle. The white-created image of Latinos riddled with stereotypes, myths, and half-truths, has had a significant role in explaining the historical treatment and current condition of Latinos. The conflation's divisive force has provided the fuel for the dominant culture to absolve themselves and blame Latinos for existing social and economic inequalities.

 This Article de-conflates Latino's race and nationality in American law and society.

Part I begins with a demographic portrait of the Latino population, in an attempt to dispel the legacy of homogenization.

Part II provides an overview of the conflation.

Part III starts with the historical roots of the conflation in the nineteenth century, detailing the conflationary images of each of the Latino subpopulations. Next, it traces the conflation to the twentieth century, detailing its formalized and institutionalized status.

Part IV examines the operation of the conflation in contemporary jurisprudence.

Part V provides an overview of the legacies of the conflation in law and society.

Lastly, Part VI addresses the themes, perspectives and new directions of critical race theory in light of the conflation of Latino's race and nationality.

[. . .]

This Article has outlined and critiqued the conflation of Latinos' race and nationality from the nineteenth century to the present. This conflation continues to operate in law and society. The homogenization of the Latino population and the denial of the diversity of national, linguistic, social, historical, cultural, gendered, racial, and political experiences of Latino people merits a closer look. An exposure of the conflationary process that has oppressed and subordinated Latinos is a necessary prerequisite.

Associate Professor of Law, California Western School of Law. J.D., Harvard Law School 1984; B.A. with Highest Honors, Rutgers College 1981.

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