I’m an African-American. I have a degree in Spanish. I studied Latin American literature in grad school. I can speak, read, and write fluently in Spanish, and some of the members of my family are of Hispanic origin. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but here it goes. Most Hispanics or Latinos (the word I prefer to use), from Mexico to Argentina, are people of color, be they of Spanish, African, or Native American ancestry (or any combination of the three, including Asian ancestry).

In Spanish, the word is mestizo, though even this can be used in a derogatory way. A person is generally considered to be Latino if he or she is born in a Spanish-speaking country and Spanish is his/her native tongue, regardless of the “racial” or national origin of the parents.

I’d like to say a word about white Latinos. In Brazil, some scientists did a DNA experiment with random groups of white and black Brazilians. The “whites” were found to have on average at least 30 percent African ancestry. Likewise, the “blacks” were found to have on average 30 percent Portuguese ancestry. The scientists concluded that you cannot guess a person’s race merely by looking at him/her. Hmmm…

Let’s talk about Argentina. A black Argentine woman, María LaMadrid, who heads the organization Africa Viva, estimates that at least 6 percent of white Argentines have some African ancestry, whether they know it and/or admit to it. It is also believed that 90 percent of all Argentines have some Native American ancestry.

So my question is: Who’s black, and who’s white? Latinos come to this country in search of a better life, but part of life in the USA includes belonging to some clear-cut racial group, and Latinos come in all colors. Many African-Americans are believed to have some Caucasian ancestry, 70 percent to 90 percent of all African-Americans are believed to have some Native American ancestry, and many have both. I suggest that what the majority culture classifies as “race” is very arbitrary and is based on what a person may look like, not their true ethnic or “racial” heritage.

Capitol Hill