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Critical Dialogues in Latinx StudiesA Reader$
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Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas and Mérida M. Rúa

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781479805198

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479805198.001.0001

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Disposable Strangers

Disposable Strangers

Mexican Americans, Latinxs, and the Ethnic Label “Hispanic” in the Twenty-First Century

(p.67) 5 Disposable Strangers
Critical Dialogues in Latinx Studies

Suzanne Oboler

NYU Press

In 1977, the Office of Management and Budget created five racial/ethnic categories, one of which was “Hispanic.” A few years later, the grassroots alternative “Latino”/”Latina” began to be heard, particularly in urban areas. But ethnic labels, like any name, have a life of their own, beyond the intent of their creators. The five categories have thus since contributed to redefine the meaning of citizenship and belonging in the United States. Focusing on Latinxs, I examine the impact of ethnic labels on their lived experience of rights and of belonging. Framed by the political and cultural instabilities created by globalization’s relentless destruction of community, this essay is motivated by the uncertainties and growing viciousness of the attacks against an amorphous group defined as “Mexicans”—a label that gradually has become a proxy term for all Latinxs, and hence a barometer of societal perceptions about them. Focusing on Mexican Americans, as the oldest and largest group of Latinx US citizens, I trace Mexican Americans' changing social locations from conquered historical minority in the mid-nineteenth century to the contemporary societal ambivalence toward “Mexicans” and hence all Latinxs, who, regardless of citizenship, are now perceived and increasingly treated, as “disposable strangers” in US society.

Keywords:   ethnic labels, Mexicans, disposable strangers, citizenship, belonging

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