Almost three weeks after Pope Francis’ election, there is still talk in the social media world about whether Pope Francis is “Latino” enough, or if he even is Latino since his parents were born in Italy, and not in Argentina or any other Latin American country. I have to say, the first time I read this, I chuckled and thought how funny it was that we were even questioning this…but now, after seeing yet another commentary on how he is not Latino, and barely Latin American, I decided it was worth addressing.
I was very excited when Cardinal Bergoglio was chosen as Pope. Ever since Benedict XVI announced that he would be stepping down, I said that the next Pope should be someone from the developing world because the reality of the Catholic Church is that its future lies in Asia and Latin America, and not in Europe. I was especially happy that a Pope from a South American country had been chosen, a Spanish-speaking Pope, un Papa latino-americano.
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PAPA FRANCISCO, ARGENTINO & LATINO
Pope Francis, was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to Italian parents 76 years ago. He is reportedly an avid fútbol fan, supporting an Argentine team, San Lorenzo, and enjoys tango and sipping mate. Saying a person who was born in Argentina and lived there for 76 years is not Latin American, just because his parents were Italian is like saying that anyone born in the United States to immigrant parents is not “American;” a point that nativists and those advocating to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution (birthright citizenship) love making. Would it be okay to say that someone is less American because his or her parents were born somewhere else? Because that is exactly what we are saying… “Pope Francis is less Latino because his parents were born in Italy, and not in South America.”
As many second generation immigrants, my parents weren’t born here, but that doesn’t make me any less American or patriotic; I am incredibly patriotic. I am the kind of person who knows more American History than the average American, and the kind of person who gets emotional when she hears the Star-Spangled Banner. I am the person who will support Team USA over any other team, my parents’ or my husband’s, because this is my country.
What is truly disheartening is that many of the people making these claims are Latino. What should have been a joyous occasion to celebrate (El Papa Francisco is after all, only the first Pope from the New World/Western Hemisphere/South America…ever) has been tainted with questions of the “authenticity” of the Pope’s background. The question is …why? Why are we not reveling in the fact that we have a Spanish-speaking Pope born in Latin America? A Pope who has led a simple life, advocating for the poor…shouldn’t we be happy about his election?
CAN WE MEASURE “LATINO-NESS?”
This is a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? How can someone’s Latino-ness be measured? Is it by where they were born? Who their parents are? What they look like? (Who can forget the stir that light-skinned Sofia the First caused?) Personally, he could’ve been an Asian Latino Pope, a Black Latino Pope, an Indigena Latino Pope, I would’ve been happy that he was a Latino Pope period. What language they speak? (In which case Joaquin Castro and many other like him who do not speak fluent Spanish would be in trouble!) How Spanish or Latino sounding a last name is? What are we saying? That because his last name is Italian, he is not Hispanic? By that measure, neither am I, or any of my family; neither is my son, whose last name is Italian but who is a French-Hispanic-American. By that measure, Shakira (whose last name is Mebarak—Lebanese) is not a Latina either. So, are we saying that Cameron Diaz is more Latina than Shakira?
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As we all know, virtually all Latin-American countries had settlers from the Old World: Italy, Spain, Portugal, and to a lesser degree, Germany and France. Are we saying that anyone who is descendant of a European settler is not Latino? Whose job is it to accord Latino-ness to a person? Is there a council I didn’t know about? By this account, are we saying that Spaniards can’t consider themselves Latino, because they are European? (If that is the case, someone please tell Alejandro Sanz that he should give back all those Latin Grammys he has won over the years.)
We live in an interesting world—one where we celebrate the 1/8 Latino ancestry of movie stars, but question the authenticity of a man who has spent his entire life living and working in Latin America.
There is no prescription or recipe for Latino-ness. There is no point system, there is no checklist. We have already seen that Latinos can unite to be a positive force, and as we saw in 2012, we have clout. Perhaps instead of looking for ways to divide we should celebrate Papa Francisco as el Primer Papa Latino. We should revel in that fact, and not try to make him less of something because his parents were born somewhere else.