Who’s really Latina? A Recent Controversy Draws Outrage Over Identity, Appropriation

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Professor Tanya Hernández shared her expert opinion on cultural appropriation with NBC News.

Who’s really Latino?
 
For millions of Americans, the issues around racial, cultural and ethnic identity are complicated. There are broad debates about how best to describe Americans of Spanish-speaking, Latin American descent (is it Hispanic? Latinx?), and endless choices reflect self-identification preferences.
 
Claiming Hispanic, Latino or Latinx identity is a matter of personal choice. As the Pew Research Center said in a 2020 report: “Who is Hispanic? Anyone who says they are.”
 
But a recent controversy illustrates the tension between identifying as part of a group and being accused of appropriating an ethnic or racial community.
 
Until January, Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan was known as a prominent Latina civil rights lawyer in New York City. She was active in social justice organizations and the recipient of prestigious honors. She was senior counsel at a leading Latino advocacy group, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and president of the National Lawyers Guild.
In the case of Bannan, “her lawyering does not need to be called into question,” said Tanya Hernández, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. “What does need to be called into question is her understanding of racial dynamics and the way she has exercised her privilege.”
 
In Hernandez’s view, Bannan’s actions harmed Latinas because she accepted opportunities that were meant for people of color. That is compounded by the reality that Latinos are underrepresented in the legal field.

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