The LATAM-US Divide on Who is “Latina”


Nominated for the 2024 Oscars, America Ferrera and Colman Domingo were congratulated by various outlets for being part of the few Latin Americans to be represented. While unfortunately, they didn’t snag any awards, their nominations are still significant and should be celebrated.

Typically, taking note of who is represented at the Oscars is an important reflection of who is being recognized in US media and whether it reflects the demographic of the country. On social media, however, some users from LATAM said these actors shouldn’t be called “Latino,” as they were born in the US, and therefore did not represent them. Was part of the problem Domingo’s Blackness and Ferrera’s Browness? Probably. Latin American has a history of excluding Black Latin Americans.

Marvel Latin News posed the question of whether having Latin American heritage is enough if actors who identify as Latino haven’t lived in LATAM. And things got heated. On Twitter, the argument goes that if you weren’t born in Latin America, you are not Latin American.

It’s nonsensical to assume that solely because a family has relocated elsewhere, the cultural aspects of being Latin American are automatically lost.

Michelle Young

Which, ok, but what does it mean to call oneself Latina, Latine, or Latinx? And yes, despite what you heard, there are Latin Americans who use “Latinx.” Whether someone is directly from Latin American or of Latin American heritage, they fall under the same umbrella in the US. That’s not only my opinion, it’s also how the US government categorizes people — Hispanic or Latino is distinctive from other groups.

It’s nonsensical to assume that solely because a family has relocated elsewhere, the cultural aspects of being Latin American are automatically lost.

In LATAM, there might be little distinction between nationality and ethnicity, but in North America, that’s not necessarily the case – our heritages and ethnicities shape our experiences, even if we fall under the same nationality. I might be Canadian by nationality, but painting all Canadian nationals with the same brush, despite our vast cultural differences, would be a dismissal of how distinct races, ethnic groups, and heritages are embedded into our society.

Latin Americans are incredibly diverse, and within Latin American countries, race, gender, and income will change someone’s experience. Not all Latin Americans in the US or Canada experience newfound wealth and opportunities – and many do experience poverty and violent crime, with gun violence disproportionately affecting the community. Racial divisions are present in LATAM – and they don’t just disappear after immigrating, even if their family has been there for generations. In North America, Latin Americans are still sometimes perceived as “foreigners” and face systemic barriers to healthcare, education, and job opportunities.

Further, Latin Americans in the US have their own distinct history. There was an entire Mexican American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, also known as the Chicano Civil Rights movement. Latin Americans served the US in World War II, and there is an entire National Museum of the American Latino. To conflate US-born Latin Americans with “gringos” – which refers to a foreigner, especially a white one – is reductive.

To conflate US-born Latin Americans with “gringos” – which refers to a foreigner, especially a white one – is reductive.

Michelle Young

I understand the frustration that the Oscars tend to be saturated with American-centric cinema. The lack of representation of Latin American film is a problem worth discussing. Historically, there have been very few so-called “foreign” films at the Oscars. That’s largely because the Oscars were constructed for and by people in the US.

However, especially when actors are denied opportunities due to an accent, it makes sense to be upset at who is seemingly allowed to receive recognition. There’s no doubt that Latin Americans who speak English with no accent will have an easier time in their careers, and that’s not fair to those who speak English as an additional language. However, our heritage is not tied to being able to speak Spanish or Portuguese. Being Latin American is far more than language. If it was, we’d start centering Indigenous languages in conversations about Latin American culture (instead of ignoring them).

It’s valid to not fully identify with actors who grew up in a different country than your own. However, there are many Latin Americans from the diaspora who are happy to see an aspect of themselves on screen, and by extension, in the Oscars. It isn’t fair to those actors to completely erase the hardships they have faced, hardships that manifested specifically because of their Latin American heritage.

Ferrera herself has spoken on the barriers she faced due to being brown, including being told to do a Latina accent and feeling pressured to assimilate to fit in (that is its own barrier faced by Latino kids in the diaspora). We should acknowledge the Latin Americans here in North America because immigrants do bring a unique culture and history here – we aren’t just a monolith that has been fully absorbed into American society. Regardless of how our stories have been changed and molded by colonization, immigration, and assimilation, Latin America heritage – as broad as it may be – is enough.

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