Navigating the 'Other' in Ethnic Identity as a Latin American in the UK

By Sarah Kueter (edited by Isabel Leask)-

Source: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2019/12/latin-americans-are-one-of-the-uks-fastest-growing-groups-so-why-arent-they-recognised

A note from the writer: I’m writing from my experiences, thoughts and understanding as someone of Latin origin growing up in another community. Consequently, I’m not attempting to speak on behalf of the Latinx community in the UK or across the globe.


The 2021 Census for the UK’s Office for National Statistics included new options regarding ethnic identity. Roma, Black Welsh, Asian Welsh, and new write-in responses for Other African Background are now included in the list regarding your ethnic identity. One group, which is very rarely, if at all, given an option on similar questions, was Latin American.


Despite the fact that Latin Americans constitute one of the largest growing communities in the United Kingdom, recognition of this as an ethnic identity in the UK has remained ignored by official records such as censuses and Diversity and Inclusion questionnaires.


Perhaps one reason for the lack of recognition and representation is the sheer complicated make-up of individuals born in a Latin country. Described as a Pan Ethnic, Latin America is a collection of subgroups, grouped by similarities based on ethnicity, linguistics, and religion, among others.


Latin America has been a mixing pot of ethnicities since colonisers from Spain and Portugal arrived on the continent with the intention of colonising the land in the name of the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns. Racial classifications, known as the Sistema de Castas (caste system), were introduced in order to keep European-born settlers (Peninsulares) at the top of the hierarchy while making provisions for Creoles - those born in the colonies but descendants of Peninsulares. The caste system would cover 6 different so-called “racial groups”, including the two groups known as Mestizos and Mulattos, those of European descendants, but mixed with either Indigenous or African ancestry. The Latin American Sistema de Castas was built around the European belief in racial science that had been gaining traction since the 16th century. Beyond this, the system was established as a way for colonists to ensure the continued subjugation of native and enslaved populations and to compartmentalise the emerging “mixed” population.

Francisco Clapera’s set of sixteen casta paintings (c. 1775)

In the twenty-first century, Latin America is now regarded as one of the most diverse collections of ethnicities in the world. My own DNA/ancestry results, for example, estimated that I was 17% Andean North Indigenous, and 12% Spanish, among others. Beyond mildly interesting genetic information, it is evident that there is no true homogeneity for individuals born in the Americas. Perhaps this is part of the reason the term Latin American has failed to solidify its meaning outside of the continent.


Genetics aside, there are now estimated to be around 250,000 people living in Britain who originate from Latin America, but getting a concrete number would be impossible because we continue to be omitted from the majority of records and virtually every form where ethnicity is a question. Without having a proper option, the majority will just tick whatever box they feel represents them most accurately out of a limited selection.


Importantly, studies have shown how the lack of proper representation for those who identify as Latinx as a result of being omitted from census records is extremely detrimental to our wellbeing. CLAUK, which works to improve the recognition of the Latin American community in the UK reported that a high number of Latin Americans were working in unsafe conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. As well as this, Latin American women in the UK faced an increase in domestic violence but found it virtually impossible to access refuge or financial support. Information on the difficulty of accessing the necessary resources would not be known if charities and educational centres would not carry out these studies, because, as mentioned, the experiences of Latin Americans in the UK are not quantifiable by official records.


While arguably the 2021 Census report has little effect on our everyday lives, continuing to omit us from potentially important statistical information means that the thoughts, feelings and experiences of Latin Americans are not taken into consideration when using statistical data that can inform policy development. Moreover, ethnic recognition could help to combat the feeling of otherness that is experienced due to a lack of representation in the UK.


 

Sources:


D. Turcatti & C. Vargas-Silva (2021) Experiences of London’s Latin American Migrants during Brexit and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Centre on Migration , Policy and Society, University of Oxford.


Trust for London. (2021). The Latin American Community in London - Trust For London | Trust for London. [online] Available at: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/publications/no-longer-invisible-latin-american-community-london/ [Accessed 15 Feb. 2022].


CAPURI (2022). More Than Other. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/357942794 [Accessed 15 Feb. 2022].


Home Office (2021). How many people continue their stay in the UK or apply to stay permanently? [online] GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/immigration-statistics-year-ending-june-2021/how-many-people-continue-their-stay-in-the-uk-or-apply-to-stay-permanently#:~:text=4.1%20Applications%20for%20British%20citizenship,the%20previous%20year%2C%20to%2074%2C384. [Accessed 15 Feb. 2022].‌


http://www.clauk.org.uk/


SLAS (2019). Latin Americans in the UK: an increasingly visible population. [online] SLAS. Available at: https://www.slas.org.uk/post/latin-americans-in-the-uk-an-increasingly-visible-population [Accessed 14 Feb. 2022].


Ons.gov.uk. (2016). Ethnicity - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/ethnicity [Accessed 14 Feb. 2022].