Alicia Carrillo, president of the Nuevo Mundo (New World) Historical and Genealogical Society, was born in Mexico and arrived in San Jose when she was a toddler. Her father participated in the bracero program that allowed the United States to find agricultural workers during World War 2 and beyond. Identifying as Mexican American, Carrillo shakes off the term “Latino.”
“I never think of myself as Latino or Hispanic,” says Carrillo at her June 16 Central Park Library talk, hosted by the Santa Clara County Historical & Genealogical Society. “I think of myself as American or Mexican. I never think, ‘I’m so proud to be Latino’ or ‘I’m so proud to be Hispanic.'”
Carrillo asks audience members what comes to mind when she mentions “Latino” or “Hispanic.” Audience members respond: Spanish-speaking individuals or Mexicans.
“[A Latino] could be a person from any country of the world who speaks one of the romance languages: Italian, Portuguese, French, and Spanish,” clarifies Carrillo, referring to notes on her slides. “You’re probably saying, ‘hmmm…really?’ Really. The etymology of the word ‘Latino’ was derived as a political term. Latino is not a race or ethnicity. It is not a nationality. It’s a generic term developed in the United States for the census… Hispanic, [defined in the dictionary] means… relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States…Again, ‘Hispanic’ is a term related to the United States. I think somebody had to define us as not being white, African, or Asian. So they had to find terms to define us and they put us in this one big block.”
Even though Carrillo doesn’t identify as Latino or Hispanic, she says she uses these descriptive terms in her organization because they are labels people would understand. Part of the mission statement of the Nuevo Mundo Historical and Genealogical Society is “to promote, develop, and encourage Latin American history and genealogical research and to preserve and perpetuate the public and private records of Latino heritage.”
“Right now, we want to grow our membership,” Carrillo says. “We want anyone who is from any country from South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. That’s what the census bureau classified as Latin American. For example, we’d like members from Cuba or Puerto Rico to tell their story and they could bring something to us different from what I know.”
“We’re a growing force,” Carrillo continues. “The bay area census in 2000 showed the Latino population at [about 1,315,000], 19.4 percent of the Bay Area population. In 2010 we were 23 ½ percent of the population, an increase of 4.1 percent. By the year 2010, there was an increase of [about 366,000]. So if it keeps increasing at that rate, by 2020, we may be about one-third of the population. I’d say it’s time we had a visible presence in terms of having a genealogical society that’s focused on the study and research of Latinos and Hispanics in the Bay Area.”