That seems to be the burning question of the day. It’s not just a stupid conversation, it’s the sort of identity politics that’s become all-too-prevalent these days and has made race and ethnicity a greater force than ever, as the jockeying for position in the have-not entitlement sweepstakes continues apace.
He is being hailed with pride and wonder as the “first Latino pope,” a native Spanish speaker born and raised in the South American nation of Argentina. But for some Latinos in the United States, there’s a catch: Pope Francis’ parents were born in Italy.
Such recent European heritage is reviving debate in the United States about what makes someone a Latino. Those questioning whether their idea of Latino identity applies to Pope Francis acknowledge that he is Latin American, and that he is a special inspiration to Spanish-speaking Catholics around the world. Yet that, in their eyes, does not mean the pope is “Latino.”
These views seem to be in the minority. But they have become a distinct part of the conversation in the United States as the Latino world contemplates this unique man and moment.
—”Are Italians Latino? No,” says Eric Cortes, who has been debating the issue with his friends.
—”The most European alternative and the closest thing to an Italian,” is how Baylor University professor Philip Jenkins described Pope Francis in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
—”Does a Latino have to have indigenous blood?” asked the LA Weekly newspaper of Los Angeles beneath the headline, “Is The New Pope Latino?”
—”Latinos come in all colors and shades and features,” Ivette Baez said in an emotional debate on the “Being Latino” Facebook page.
That said, I recall that I noted the new pope’s Italian ancestry in the very first article I wrote about him, and the affect it might have on his diversity status:
I note that Bergoglio is an interesting compromise in the diversity sense. He’s from Latin America, but the name “Bergoglio” indicates Italian ancestry, as is true of a huge number of Argentinians. This would make him a semi-throwback to the days when popes tended to be Italian (skimming this list rather quickly indicates that the first non-Italian Pope since medieval times was elected in 1978).
[NOTE: The word "latino" makes me think of "ladino." So, that brings us to the second hugely important question of the day---are Jews who speak ladino latino?]