hisham hm

On the word “latino”

One of my least-favorite American English words is “latino”, for two reasons:

First, a linguistic reason: because it’s not inflected when used. When you’re used to the fact that in Spanish and Portuguese “latino” refers only to men and “latina” only to women, hearing “latino woman” sounds really weird (weirder than, say, “handsome woman”). Even weirder “latino women”, mixing a Spanish/Portuguese word and English grammar. “Bonito girls”? :)

Second, a sociological reason: because using a foreign loanword reinforces the otherness. Nobody calls the Italian community in America “italiano”, although that’s their name in Italian. The alternative “Hispanic” is not ideal because it doesn’t really make sense when including Brazil, which was never a Spanish colony (plus, the colonial past is something most countries want to leave behind).

I can’t change the language by myself, so I just avoid the term and use more specific ones whenever possible (Colombians, Argentines, Brazilians, South Americans, Latin Americans when referring to people from the area in general, etc.)

After writing the above, I checked Wikipedia and it seems the communites in the US agree with me:

« In a recent study, most Spanish-speakers of Spanish or Hispanic American descent do not prefer the term “Hispanic” or “Latino” when it comes to describing their identity. Instead, they prefer to be identified by their country of origin. When asked if they have a preference for either being identified as “Hispanic” or “Latino,” the Pew study finds that “half (51%) say they have no preference for either term.”[43] A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin, while 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label such as Hispanic or Latino. Among those 24% who have a preference for a pan-ethnic label, “‘Hispanic’ is preferred over ‘Latino’ by more than a two-to-one margin—33% versus 14%.” Twenty-one percent prefer to be referred to simply as “Americans.” »

I think the awkwardness in the grammar from point one actually reinforces point two, because it strikes me as something that no Spanish or Portuguese native speaker would come up with by themselves. So it sounds tacked upon.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully identify as a Brazilian, a South American and a Latin American — travellling abroad helps a lot to widen your cultural identity! — and I have no problem when people wear the term “latino” proudly, but I always pay close attention to the power of language and how it represents and propagates ideas.


David Bowie in 1999 on the cultural impact of the internet


It’s impressive to see David Bowie’s foresight on the cultural impact of the internet back in 1999, and how the interviewer was completely oblivious to it:

« Bowie: [When I was really young,] it still produced sighs of horror from people when you said “I’m in rock’n'roll”. Now it’s a career opportunity. And the internet now carries that flag, from the subversive and possibly rebellious, and chaotic, and nihilistic… Forget about the Microsoft element: the monopolies do not have a monopoly — maybe on programs.

Interviewer: What you like about it is that anyone can say anything, or do anything?

Bowie: From where I am, by virtue of the fact that I am a pop singer and writer, I really embrace the idea that there’s a new demystification process going on between the artist and the audience. If you look back at this last decade, there hasn’t been a single entity, artist or group that personified or became the brand of the 90s. It started to fade in the 80s… in the 70s there were definitely such artists, in the 60s… the Beatles, and Hendrix… in the 50s there was Presley.

Now it’s sub-groups, it’s genres: it’s hip-hop, it’s girl-power, it’s a communal kind of thing. It’s about a community, it’s becoming more and more about the audience. Because the point of having someone who led the forces has dissapeared, because the vocabulary of rock is too well-known. It’s a currency that is not devoid of meaning anymore, but it’s become only conveyor of information, not a conveyor of rebellion, and the internet has taken on that, as I said. So I find that a terribly exciting era.

So, from my standpoint, being an artist, I’d like to see what the new construction is between artist and audience. There is a breakdown, personified I think about rave culture, where the audience is at least as important as the person who is playing at the rave. It’s almost like the artist is to accompany the audience and what the audience is doing. And that feeling is very much permeating music. And permeating the internet. »


Speaking of aging

“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it were only the other way!” — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A while ago I realized that, as we live more and more of our lives online, many of us have turned into a sort of reverse Dorian Gray.

We create accounts in service after service, uploading our avatar images. Some of them are periodically updated for various reasons (Facebook in particular), but many of them stay unchanged for years. When was the last time you changed your GMail avatar?

As it happens, our online self keeps that perennial smile, that youthful face that’s sometimes years old by now, while our physical self, the one that’s locked in a room, sitting on a computer as the online self strolls around in cyberspace, ages day by day.

I have friends here on Facebook whose avatars I’ve known for years. Professors are known for having outdated pictures in their websites, with black hair that has long turned gray.

I met a guy at a conference who I expected to be a youthful long-haired dude in his 20s, and was a short-haired man in his late 30s. When I said “oh, you have short hair now!” he smiled, a bit confused, and then remembered his own picture. What is striking is that I should have known, since I knew that picture for over ten years myself, back when I was a dude in my 20s.

As for me, I have one nice pic of myself that I uploaded as an avatar in many services (Twitter, Github, etc) that I’m just too lazy to switch. I like the picture and I actually used it once as a reference at the barbershop when getting a haircut (was I trying to chase my “Dorian’s picture”?). Still, when switching back from my child picture here on Facebook back to my “current” picture, the thought that my usual profile picture is actually from 2011 came to mind. Hence, this picture.


A story of violence and gender

[Even though the title foretells its content, I’ve been advised to add a trigger warning at the top of this post. It doesn’t hurt to be careful.]

It’s been a few days that I’ve been meaning to write this. I even discussed with a friend two days ago about when would be a good time. Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality yesterday (transcript and video) inspired me to go for it: “if not now, when?”.

I want to touch a delicate subject, which she brought up masterfully: how gender inequality works on men.

The story of any oppression is that of three roles: a mass of oppresed ones; a few who oppress them; and a mass who turns a blind eye, who are oppressors by proxy. This is the story of racism, of religious discrimination, and so on. Ms. Watson’s speech shines a light that the issue of gender equality is even more complex than that. Men are hurting women, and also hurting themselves in the process.

What made me want to write this was something that happened last week. I was with two friends, a guy and a girl, at a bar in a foreign country. (It was in Russia, but it could have been anywhere.) A disgusting scene happened. I didn’t see it firsthand, but the girl who was with us was looking straight at it, so I’ll reproduce her report:

At one point the guy who seemed to be the manager started to harass the waitress, just like that, in front of anyone. She froze. And so did I. She stood still in front of the counter while the man held her from behind rubbing his penis violently against her ass. I watched, petrified. I zoned out of my friends’ conversation. The pleasant look in the girl’s face was gone. After he let her go, I tried to approach her in another corner of the bar. The manager went to annoy two other women who were customers. One of them pulled her arm so he’d let her go. And they stayed in the bar! In the corner of the bar I asked the waitress [using Google Translator] if he was her boyfriend and if she was okay. She didn’t speak English, didn’t answer and just said “it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Of course it was not okay. My friend shared her concern with us. Dismayed as we were with it, our only reaction was to express our impotence with the situation. The reflex instinct of being part of “the mass who turns a blind eye”. We think ourselves better because we don’t do such things (and we probably are). Still, being “oppressors by proxy” is not a place we’re proud to be. Our sense of impotence, however, was very much real.

We said “What can we do?”. She said, “I don’t know, if he does it again I’ll make a scene in this place! A scandal!” Then I said “Women have that option.” I didn’t mean to sound rude, but that’s true. The way things work with men is that if we were to confront the (shirtless, tattooed, long-haired) guy, things would soon go violent. We told our friend: “What can we do? Get into a fist fight in a foreign country?” Her reaction was “Oh, men.”

This story highlights a less-discussed aspect in gender inequality. The prevailing rule of male violence serves not only to harm women, but also to stop other men from taking action. My male friend and I, we both knew we were under an unspoken law that if we were to do something, things would get violent.

(A flashback: The only time in my adult life that I got in a fist fight was years ago, also in Eastern Europe. I was walking down a street with a group of friends. Some guys across the street started yelling at the only woman in our group. She yelled back. They crossed the street and went for her. We stood in the way and it quickly got ugly. I think eventually someone shouted “police” and they ran away. One thing that strikes me from that story is that I’ve rarely retold it, and I’ve never seen any of my friends telling it. Men get ashamed of getting in a fight like that, even if it was for standing up for a woman. The other guys probably just made jokes about beating up some foreigners the next day.)

Back to last week’s story, we all felt the waitress really just meant “please don’t get into this”. Still, I wanted to think of something to do. If were we in our home country, we’d know how to report the manager in a safe way. We didn’t know if he owned the place, if anything we did would just get her fired, or worse. All these things crossed my mind.

We evidently didn’t want to stay in that place and give them any more money, so we spoke of leaving. We were waiting for a local friend, and I could just message him saying we had to leave. Then I told my friend “No, let’s wait for my friend and then we’ll explain him what happened and ask him to talk to her in Russian.” She replied, “Good idea.”

As soon as he arrived I told him the story, and that we wanted him to talk to the waitress about what happened before leaving. He seemed surprised; both with what happened and with our seriousness about it. We called her to our table. My Russian friend talked to her, and she told him that he was her boss, not a boyfriend, that he was “like that” but that it was “okay”. Before leaving the waitress went to my friend and repeated to her “it’s okay, it’s okay”, but her sad look said otherwise.

Even if she did think that enduring that guy was “just part of the job”, I hope that our concern reminded her that no, it’s not okay. And if she already felt it’s not okay (as I think she did), now she knows she’s not alone in thinking that, and that she’s not invisible. I’m very proud of my friend for reaching out for her, and shaking us up to do the same. The next day I had a long conversation about it in the airplane with my male friend who was there. These things matter.

We can’t fight gender inequality only by having women to stand up to men. Men have to stand up against inequality as well. And by “standing up” I don’t mean picking up fights. That is only reinforcing the gender stereotype. It’s a matter of redefining gender roles. I feel that society is slowly making progress (though clearly not at the same pace everywhere), but it’s a struggle into which both women and men need to take part. We men have to learn how.


That constant background noise in the head

I just came to an interesting realization. In this World Cup, since I’m watching so many games in Globo TV, Brazil’s main network, a side effect is that it’s been a long time that I didn’t watch so many commercial breaks, and so many times the same ads. Each ad individually doesn’t bother me that much. Many of them are even fun. But realizing this constant repetition — with its jingles and slogans echoing in my head — is very uncomfortable.

That got me thinking now of people who watch, for example, telenovelas (or series on network TV), or the same nightly news, every day, six days a week… watching the same commercials. It’s only now that I got unused to watch commercials, that I realize the dimension of this constant background noise in the mind that they are.

Whenever I see someone browsing the internet in a computer without an ad-blocker installed, I have this same shock. I’m reminded of what the internet actually looks like. People are apparently “anesthesized” to watch sites full of ads. When I point this out to them and I recommend an ad-blocker, they say they “don’t really notice” or that it “doesn’t bother” them. But I personally doubt it has no effect (or else a company like Google would be multibillionare based on ads, as it is).

This all makes me, at the same time, a bit happy for myself, as I realize that I found a way to live free from some of these sources of mental noise, but sad for remembering that this noise is so widespread.