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The Carletonian

Navigating my frustration with identity politics

<ing the school week I find myself in the Evans ground floor game room far more often than I, or my GPA, would like. Last Monday, when I should’ve been starting my econometrics problem set or editing my papers for my African cinema course, a good friend and I were engrossed in a fiercely competitive game of pool while listening to our favorite playlists of songs.

Eventually, Dean Martin’s rich, husky voice filled the room, and I couldn’t help but sing along to the lyrics of one of my favorite tunes: “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” As the song came to a close and my focus shifted back to the billiards table, my friend struggled to contain his laughter, finally explaining to me that I often-times remind him of “an old white man,” and my immersion in the music solidified this view.

Before anyone jumps to self-righteous indignation and anger, I must make it clear that I in no way found his remarks to be offensive. My friend is a man who cares deeply about issues of social justice and equity, and I know that his comment was nothing more than a playful joke. Still, such a remark reminded me of what I had so often heard growing up, that I am not “really” a Latino, that I have become fully assimilated into white America.

According to my friends and even some family members, I am just too much of an outlier in my interests and opinions to really be a part of “the rest of them.” My penchant for donning Brooks Brothers polo shirts and Sperry boat shoes is apparently too preppy, too New England, and too WASPy. The fact that my first iPod in middle school was full of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and Jack Johnson meant, to those that knew me, that I would fit in better at a squash club than in my predominantly Hispanic soccer team. Yet, according to those around me, it is my political affiliation that ostracizes me from my own people far more than my sartorial and musical preferences, and that assertion is what I find most disturbing.

Anyone who has read my previous columns knows that I have identified as a libertarian-leaning conservative ever since I attained a political consciousness. I will not go into more detail as to what that entails philosophically. Such information is irrelevant now, and, considering my previous articles, redundant. What I will say is that there is no question as to the ethnic and racial compositions of the body of people with whom I share many of the same political opinions. You won’t find many Valenzuelas at a Republican Party convention or on a list of subscribers to Reason Magazine, one of the nation’s top libertarian publications. In the circles of right-wing America, regardless of the geographic region, I will always be accustomed to being in the minority.  

It’s due to such demographic realities that many are surprised to learn that I do not generally vote Democratic in political races, that I would have been happier to see a Romney administration than an Obama re-election. Such assumptions that others make are based on statistics, but that doesn’t make those assumptions easier. Far too often, I have found myself defending myself against charges made by other Hispanics that I have “abandoned” our people, that I have been sucked into the warped and oppressive worldview of the ruling class. As a middle-class Latino, I am expected to fall in line with what others that look like me and sound like me have established as the “correct” mode of thinking and acting. To deviate from such a path is, in many’s eyes, tantamount to betraying the sacrifices of all of those who suffered and continue to suffer in order to make our Hispanic voices heard.

What hurts the most, however, is that those who accuse me of wallowing in the world of white America forget that I, in many parts of this country that I love, am still viewed with suspicion and even hatred. There are some people who think of me as an outsider, a parasite who has to be “returned” to the land where I really belong. Those who play the game of identity politics conveniently forget that I at times have faced onslaughts of racial slurs that many readers of this column are most likely, and most unfortunately, all too familiar with.

I am not trying to excuse my thinking, nor am I trying to make myself a victim. Rather, I am simply asking all of you to remember that regardless of how I behave or what I believe in, I am first and foremost an individual with my own unique thinking, and that my experiences and my life should never be summed up by simple labels.

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