Say The ‘M’ Word

Closeup detail of "El Mundo", from John Picacio's LOTERIA art series.

Closeup detail of “El Mundo”, from John Picacio’s LOTERIA art series.

Mexican American.

If you are, you should be proud.

And whether you are or you’re not, you hear the American media and our political parties use the words “Latino” and “Hispanic” instead of using the “M” word, when speaking on Mexican stories, peoples and issues. We’ve seen one political party directly demonize Mexican peoples in order to catalyze fear, while the opposing party responded by repeatedly messaging “Latinos” and “Hispanics”, missing the massive opportunity to use the term “Mexican American” as a proud call to action.

It was a costly mistake, as there are 35.8 million people in the US that self-identify as Mexican American — a full 11% of the total US population, and growing. We see that cultural misstep further demonstrated in this week’s post-election analysis, as graphs flash across our screens about a surprising “Latino” / “Hispanic” vote that favored the attacking candidate more than many would have imagined. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Guatamalans weren’t generalized as ‘rapists’ and ‘killers’. And yet, the media kept choosing not to use the “M” word, lumping Mexican American voters in with a bloc that supposedly operates in lockstep. So wrong. It doesn’t work that way. The Democrats failed to directly appeal to the hearts and minds of MEXICAN AMERICANS. By using the words “Latino” and “Hispanic”, they instead spoke to a coalition made of marketing mirage more than ideological unity.

I have yet to see the voting numbers for Mexican Americans in the election because the skewed headline of a “surprisingly high” Latino / Hispanic vote for the attacking party is the lede. It seems to label Mexican Americans as not caring that they were attacked and demonized, further compounding cultural abuse. Bear in mind that this is not just a right-leaning media framing. Left-leaning media and pollsters make this mistake time after time, even as they continue serving themselves their own cultural polling data in myopic ways. In future, I hope Democrats realize how important it is to address Mexican Americans as Mexican Americans, and stop being fooled by the illusions of the marketing agencies and census bureau agendas that crafted these terms in the first place.

When you want to communicate with someone, you use their chosen name, look them directly in the eye, and speak as equals. You don’t make up a nickname, talk over the person in front of you, while staring over their head at some crowd in the distance. It’s no wonder marketers, pollsters, politicians, and sales honks can’t connect with Mexican Americans. You won’t connect with anyone that way!

Do I think Mexican Americans should wage war on the words “Latino” and “Hispanic”? NO. I don’t think that’s a smart use of energy. Those umbrella terms are appropriate harbors for some people’s dreams and journeys, and they can serve a purpose. But for Mexican Americans, I invite all of us to hereby take our 63% within the “Latino” / “Hispanic” labels, redirect our self-identification, and begin taking charge of our narratives, our power, and our futures. Sail forth. Boldly go.

I had already begun doing that for myself, prior to this country’s latest Day of Infamy, but as part of my own plan-of-action, I hereby pledge to proudly self-identify as “Mexican American” where appropriate and avoid substituting “Latino”, “Hispanic”, “Tejano” or “Chicano” to label myself. I pledge to use some of my forthcoming works to offer new dimensions of hope and inspiration to my Mexican peoples, while working as a creator that can resonate with ALL peoples and audiences, as I have for the last twenty years. My friend Leigh Bardugo said to me last week, “You’re a citizen of the world.” She’s right — first and foremost, I am that. Always and forever.

I’m John Picacio.

Citizen of Planet Earth, here to serve all, and continue giving my all, especially in this time of urgent need for new art, stories, and hope.

American illustrator and storyteller.

Mexican American.

Brown and proud.

 

 

 

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