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Published by: zhopagolaia on Oct 31, 2011
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DOI: 10.1177/14687968030030040012003; 3; 427
Helen Marrow
Identity in the United StatesTo be or not to be (Hispanic or Latino): Brazilian Racial and Ethnic
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To be or not to be (Hispanic or Latino)
Brazilian racial and ethnic identity in the United State
Harvard University,USA
I use 1990 US census data and 22 semi-structured interviews withBrazilian immigrant youth in Boston to show how Brazilians are becoming racial-ized into the black–white binary of American society, but how over time theymanage to escape the downward mobility of Hispanic/Latino categorization bybecoming ‘American’ and playing off US natives’ Spanish-centered understandingof Hispanics/Latinos (which does not include them). Successful Americanization forBrazilians means not becoming part of a stigmatized Hispanic/Latino group associ-ated with low socioeconomic status, racial discrimination and, on the heels of massive new immigration from Latin America, disempowered immigrant status –rather than becoming ‘Hispanic/Latino’ as part and parcel of becoming ‘American’.The Brazilian case exposes some of the assumptions behind dominant USracial/ethnic categories (particularly ‘white’ and ‘black’), and it lays bare thecomplexities and contradictions in the Hispanic/Latino ‘panethnic’ category,pinpointing anew its
racial basis
embedded immigrant analogy
. ThatHispanic/Latino classification continues to conflate race and immigrant status asUS-bound immigration from Latin America has increased, expanded, and raised the
share of the US ‘Hispanic/Latino’ population prompts a re-evaluationof who the group includes (and why or why not), as well as a reassessment of AfricanAmerican/Latino positions and relations in the US ethno-racial hierarchy.
Immigrants both react to and transform notions of race and ethnicity in theUSA (Anderson and Fienberg, 1999; Bailey, 2001; Rodríguez, 2000; Waters,1999). New immigrants enter the USA with their own notions of race and
Copyright © 2003 SAGE Publications (London,Thousand Oaks,CA and New Delhi)Vol 3(4):427–464 [1468-7968(200312)3:4;427–464;038569]www.sagepublications.com
 at SAGE Publications on January 21, 2010http://etn.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
ethnicity, formed by different historical processes in their countries of origin. Upon their arrival, they ‘learn’ and react to predominant US notionsof race and ethnicity, quickly figuring out where the USA and its natives‘see’ them. At the same time, new immigrants work to maintain theiroriginal identifications and notions of race and ethnicity – challenging USnotions and the way that US natives ‘see’ and incorporate them along theway. In a dialectical convergence of external and internal identifications –a meeting of what Cornell and Hartmann (1997: 82) term ‘assertive’, volun-tary, or internal identification
 from the inside
and ‘assigned’, involuntary, orexternal identification
 from the outside
– both host country and immigrantnotions of race and ethnicity are asserted, challenged, and reorganized. Theresults of this interactive process tell us much about the ways in which raceand ethnicity factor into immigrant incorporation and affect social hier-archies and inequalities in the USA. Here I use Brazilians in the USA toexplore some of the processes in this ethno-racial modification andchallenge, and to lay bare some of the contradictions and complexities inthe US racial/ethnic classification system, particularly in regards toHispanic/Latino ‘panethnicity’. Such complexities are very evident in theBrazilian case, but are also present in many others.Brazilians make an interesting case study for several reasons. First, theyhave received relatively little attention in the US immigration literaturethus far.
Second, Brazil has treated race differently throughout its historyfrom the US, and although both systems are changing somewhat to look like the other, they have often been treated as polar opposites (Nobles,2000). The simple distinction is that historically the USA has abided by astrict and polarized white–black binary, while Brazil has developed more oa racial ‘continuum’. That is, in the USA blackness has been defined andsolidified historically by the one-drop-of-blood rule of hypodescent, so thatanyone with any African ancestry at all is defined as ‘black’, or at least ‘notwhite’, whereas in Brazil blackness has been defined by a different ‘one-drop’ rule, so that anyone with any European ancestry at all is defined aspotentially white’, or at least ‘not black’. This has made whiteness a muchmore inclusive category in Brazil than in the USA. Although Brazil exhibitsa clear hierarchy of desirability – with whiteness ranking much higher onthe socioeconomic and cultural totem poles than blackness – like manyother Latin American countries, its history of nation-building and racialformation stands in stark contrast to the USA’s polarized vision of white-ness/blackness, history of racial exclusion in nation-building processes, and‘one-drop’ rule in which perceived or imagined African ancestry makes anindividual ‘not white’ (Bailey, 2001; Davis, 1991; Degler, 1986; Harris, 1964;Marx, 1998; Nobles, 2000; Skidmore, 1993; Wacquant, 1997; Wagley, 1965;Winant, 1992).Third, Brazil boasts its own proud and complex history of immigrationand multiculturalism, which means that US-bound immigrants from Brazil
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