What Does It Mean To Be Latino? PBS Investigates

With a last name like mine – Alanis – I’ve always wondered where exactly my family history comes from.  It hasn’t helped any that for the majority of my life people have often confused me for being Asian instead of Latino.  A few have even reprimanded “you don’t look Mexican!” in confusion and frustration after I could not understand the language they initially began speaking to me in.  “Are you sure?” …sometimes they continue as if though I’m only pretending for the sake of avoiding conversation.  These situations can get pretty hilarious pretty quickly.  Trust me!

What’s that saying?  If I had a penny for every time…

Michelle Rodriguez finding your roots pbs
Michelle Rodriguez explores her Hispanic roots on PBS.

Pero bueno, my question for myself after these encounters, then and now, has always remained the same.  What does it mean to be Mexican?  Or for that matter, Latino?

Does the fact that I “don’t look Mexican” mean I am less of a Latino?  What if I did not speak or write in Spanish?  Could I still be considered part of the Hispanic community?  What exactly would I be considered if not Latino?  These are all the questions that have driven me to do some of the digging I’ve done so far about my last name.  Totally unofficial, what I’ve found so far is that apparently Alanis is very common in Indonesia.  Maybe that could explain the whole Asian-Latino confusion about me?  Who knows!  What I do know, is that precisely because of these puzzling questions about my own family history, I’ve been a sucker for PBS’s Finding Your Roots since it first began.  The show takes famous personalities and traces their family roots as far back as they can, often revealing surprising truths about their histories.

I so would love to have my family history traced.  Too bad que no soy famoso!

On the next episode, which airs this Sunday on PBS and is the season finale for Finding Your Roots, Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier and Linda Chavez explore their tangled Spanish colonial roots.  They find that their various family histories include influences from Native American, African and European people – from conquistadors to crypto-Jews – who made the New World.  I’ll definitely be watching!  Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect:

Watch Finding Your Roots: Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier & Linda Chavez – Preview on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.

11 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be Latino? PBS Investigates”

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think this program is doing just that. Allowing people to see just how varied we are as a people. There are no specifics to what it means to be Latino!

  1. I’ve been designated Armenian, Greek and even Jewish, while all the time desperately seeking to be called Mexrish! 😉 Just kidding, kind of. New Mexicans even more screwed cause it’s like we’re not satisfied with just being the old kind of Mexican. Just kidding, again. Kind of.

  2. Being Latino is NOT a race; it’s an ethnicity. We are basically a mixed breed of humans. It only took me a short time reading the old encyclopedia britanica (back in the 80s) to read about how Mexican Americans are basically Native Americans with anywhere from nil (zero)-> to trace amounts -> to a crap load of Spanish (among other European and even African) ancestry depending on your familial background. WTH? Why is it so surprising that we are compared with Native Americans and Asians? We learned about the Asian migration to North America across the Bering Straits during the ice age (didn’t we?), which makes us Asian as well so now you know why every Mexican either knows or is related to someone nicknamed Chino/a. Come on people, I knew that and I was a straight C student in high school (it just wasn’t interesting until computers where introduced my senior year – my only A 🙂

  3. I know what you mean, if I didn’t tell people that my parents are fromEl Salvador, everyone would think I’m american. Heck, no one knew I was hispanic in school except my best-friends until i started
    reading in spanish during spanish class. I’ve grown up speaking
    spanish, I can read in spanish and i even know how to write a little, tamales, pupusas and even aluaishte is delicious to me. On my dads side of the family I don’t know where we come from, but on my moms I have a strong feeling that we have a lot of spanish blood, since my great-great-grandfather owned a plantation and my great-grandmother lived in a mansion until my great-grandfather forced her to sell it years ago (yes he is very mean to my great-grandmohter).
    My name is in the traditional hispanic way:
    Alex Romero Cortez (Romero being my dads and Cortez my mom).
    My Dads last name is:
    Romero Martinez
    Dads Mom:
    Romero
    Dads dad:
    Martinez
    Dads grandpa:
    Hernandez
    Dads grandma:
    Romero
    My Moms last name is:
    Cortez Cruz
    My Moms mom;
    Cortez
    My Moms dad:
    Cruz
    My Moms grandpa:
    Cortez
    My Moms grandma before she got married:
    Trujillo
    *Both my parents removed their second last name when they came to the US*
    I wish i could trace back my family history to, but I know i’m Latino and proud of it, no matter if I’m related to some chinos/as!

  4. If some of you are interested, there is a movie that will be coming out end of May and beginning of June (I believe) ‘Who were the Cristeros’. It’s a GREAT history lesson for Mexicans, it details the pursecution of Roman Catholics between 1926 and 1929. My great great grandfather and great grandfather were both part of the Cristeros. My grandpa often tells stories of how they were tortured by the government. A big plus is that big name hispanic actors/actress are in the movie …Eva Longoria, Andy Garcia, Eduardo Verastegui…and many more!!

  5. To be Latino is a true reality of Racial Colonial Struggle within the American White and Black History only.We are Natives to this Nation before White&Black illegal boat May Flower 1620 cross our borders with the so called “Founders’ the racial cleansing war continues on our Native commuinity.We are not WWhite people because they don’t deport Whites from America only LatinoNative Negros under OBAMA LATINO ETHNIC CLEANSING PROGRAM USA. WE ARE LATINOS! DON”T CALL ME HISPANIC I AM NOT FROM SPAIN BUT A AMERICA! WE PRAY TO GOD THAT PBS HAS THE RESPECT TO ALLOW US TO TELL OUR OWN HISTORY AND STRUGGLES IN OUR NATIVE LAND.PLEASE NOT WHITES&BLACKS TELLING US WHAT WE ARE AGAIN! LET US TELL WHO WE ARE!
    THANK YOU PBS!

  6. SPOILER: If you watch the show, then you will see that all of them are predominantly of European heritage. Michelle is more African than Native American, but still mostly white (probably Spanish). Linda is more Spanish-Jew than Native American. Adrien has only a tiny bit of Native American ancestry. Of course, this is not something people want to acknowledge about Hispanics – that some of us are pretty much white.

  7. My father’s parents were from Spain, my mother’s parents were from Italy. I consider myself both, embrace the food and cultures, and fly both flags slightly below my American flag.

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