Feb. 16, 2010

Students assert that many Latinos are Native Americans, too

Although Cornell offers a more diverse environment than many other communities in the United States, some students say it is not easy to claim an indigenous identity, even at Cornell.

"Throughout my four years here, it's been very difficult to assert my native identity," said Jacqueline Blas '10, president and co-chair of the Native American Students at Cornell (NASAC) at an event Feb. 12 at the Latino Living Center (LLC). "People look at me, and they say, 'but you're Hispanic, you speak Spanish, so how can you claim that you're native?'"

About 30 students crowded onto couches in LLC's main lounge to discuss the topic, "Who is an Indian? Defining Indigeneity in the Modern United States." The event was part of the Café con Leche series sponsored by the LLC.

Several students agreed that they did not know whether to classify themselves as Hispanic, Native American or multi-ethnic. Since many Hispanics have ancestors from indigenous groups in Latin America, some consider themselves part Native American.

"How do you tell somebody, 'Well, I'm kind of white, kind of black, kind of indigenous, and my parents are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico?'" asked Emily Feliberty '10.

NASAC member Joshua Crofton-Macdonald '12 presented information on the different classifications of Native Americans. "'Federally recognized' is usually what you think of when you think of Indians," he said. Federally recognized native groups receive financial benefits while other classifications of Native Americans generally do not, he said. For natives who are not part of a federally recognized group, it is often difficult to decide on an ethnic label.

In a discussion led by NASAC member Cecily Blackwater '10, some students said that Latinos are not usually considered Native Americans when they move to the United States. Latin American natives are different than U.S. natives, said NASAC member Samuel Rose '10, "but to a certain extent it is still a shared experience."

Several students, who identified themselves as both Hispanic and Native American, said that they felt that most non-Latinos do not recognize that many Hispanics are also part native."

Growing up in the United States, "there was no forum or space where I would be discussing myself as part Native American versus just Hispanic," said Maria Deño '13.

The Café con Leche series continues Feb. 18 with a discussion of George Lopez's documentary "Brown is the New Green," in LLC's main lounge.

Hanna Roos '10 is an intern writer at the Cornell Chronicle.