The secret history of Latin America’s Hispanic identity

Written by Corinne Tighe, CNN

Countless cultures remain firmly rooted in their traditions, customs and beliefs. But there are also groups that are deeply embedded in their own cultural traditions — or cultures as well as ancestral memory.

Some in Latin America, for example, have an affinity for their cowboy ways — even if their culture has been largely interwoven into this American tradition.

Less obviously, there are those who have both lived through the Dominican Republic’s violent colonial era and still practice the religion indigenous to the country — a Mormon practice known as the Mohegan tribe.

And, for many people in Argentina, their history includes French, Dutch and Spanish heritage, and the Mayans as well as the Mesoamerican culture, originating from Mexico.

Founded in the 1990s, the Hispanic Identity (or “Sorte Cubano,” as it’s also known) was founded to represent and advocate for a group of people in Argentina that, for many, has been a hidden minority.

“We live in a society where we are already free, that has all the tools that you need to establish and protect your culture, your values, your traditional values and your indigenous values,” says

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In Argentina, the identity of an indigenous person is still often lacking and under-represented, explains Robin Verhagg, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Albany, and a colleague of Vergara in her current role as director of the Center for Latin American Studies.

“As a lot of the indigenous cultures in Latin America are diverse, you find a kind of omniscience in their cultural pride, and you see a different kind of energy in their cultural identity, and their organization,” Vergara said.

“Those are the same ideals that we are interested in pursuing in the Identity,” she says.

And Vergara, who was born in Argentina, explains that Argentinians themselves recognize the practice of Hispanic Identity as such.

In June 2016, Vergara hosted a conference on Hispanic Identity where she conducted a survey on which participants identified their origins. The results suggested that the proportion of participants identifying as Hispanic was around 30%.

Although she does not have hard data to support this, Vergara believes that there are many native Mexican groups who identify as Hispanic.

“There is a kind of oil and a bond that you get from knowing your people,” Vergara says.

“They recognize that they have to continue honoring that culture and that history, to keep it alive.”

And these groups are not only served by this history, Vergara explains.

“It is a way for people who identify as part of the Hispanic population that have Spanish backgrounds, or African or African Indian backgrounds, to really apply themselves to Latinos and their identity,” she says.

Research in the Netherlands indicates that this phenomenon can be seen as an ideological affinity that surrounds Hispanic Identity.

“For at least many Dutch people,” Vergara says, “it is a universal or a metaphysical sense of belonging, in a very cultural way.”

Just as the Mayans continued their beliefs during the Coptic Erosion that hit Mexico and Central America between the first and third centuries A.D., which began their decline, many of today’s Hispanic groups continue with their traditional beliefs as well as practice their native languages.

For Naveed, Vergara’s partner in the organization, the energy behind Hispanic Identity is all around the origins of the groups themselves.

“Every year, because I am from India and because I am a Muslim, I get inspired by my heritage and my heritage’s heritage, which is very far away from my culture in Argentina, and I realize that some of the things that I believe in are also some of the same things that my partner [has],” Vergara says.

And Vergara’s connection to Hispanic identity extends beyond her personal ties to the groups she works with. “It is a kind of unity. I can’t imagine the world without Hispanic and African cultures,” she says.

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