White Latinos

White Latinos

Harvard Latino Law Review
Volume 6, Number 1 (Spring 2003)
8 pages

Ian Haney Lopez, John H. Boalt Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley

Who are the leaders in Latino communities? This question does not admit simple answers, for who counts as a leader and what Latino identity entails are both contentious issues. Having said that, I contend that often Latino leaders are white. I employ this hyperbole to emphasize my point that most of those who see themselves as leaders of Latino communities accept or assert whiteness as a key component of their identity. This assertion of whiteness, I argue here, facilitates the mistreatment of Latinos and buttresses social inequality. In this Essay I use the experience of Mexican Americans and the Chicano movement to illustrate this dynamic, and also comment on the aspiration to be white in the context of contemporary racial politics.


The majority of those who consider themselves leaders in Latino communities are white. I do not contend by this that race is fixed or easily ascertained. Nor do I mean that the Latino community is led by Anglos—that is, by persons from the group hstorically understood as white in this country. Rather, Latino leaders are often white in terms of how they see themselves and how they are regarded by others within and outside of their community. Race’s socially constructed nature ensures that racial identity is formed on multiple, sometimes contradictory levels. Self-identification, group perception, and external classification all constitute axes of racial construction. In turn, these axes encompass myriad criteria for determining racial identity. In this context, many Latino leaders believe they are—and are understood to be—white by virtue of class privilege, education, physical features, accent, acculturation, self-conception, and social consensus. True, these Latinos are rarely white in the sense that they are accorded the full range of racial privileges and presumptions Anglos reserve for themselves. But then, as with all racial categories, there are various shades of white, and many Latino leaders are arrayed along this continuum…

Read the entire essay here.

Tags: , ,