The Very Idea of Hispanic Identity

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Hispanics, and similar ethnic groups, are socially and politically recognized in American society because belonging to such groups is often thought to be central to members' identities. But is "Hispanicity" central to members' identities? What is the significance of being a Hispanic? My general thesis is that contrary to the common assumption of governmental agencies, advocacy groups, policy-makers, and American society in general, belonging to the Hispanic group is not currently central to its members' identities.

I develop my thesis in two parts. In chapters two through four, I address philosophical questions about membership and groups. I argue that the sort of membership that is central to group members' identities is basic. Basic membership consists of traits that are essential to someone's self-understanding, making such a person a member of a particular group. Groups in which membership is basic generally satisfy three conditions: relevant identification, differentiation, and intrinsic identification.

In chapters five through seven, I then turn to Hispanic identity. I argue that given the national identities of Hispanics, membership in the Hispanic group is generally not basic. Hispanic membership is an epiphenomenon of national membership, and thus the latter is basic whereas the former is not. I also point out that Hispanic membership could be a tipping phenomenon. A process of Hispanic people-making, in which the American state plays a key role, could turn Hispanic membership into a basic one.

By way of conclusion, I discuss some possible implications of Hispanic identity for American national unity and for U.S.-Latin American relations.