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OSNALZA ORTIZ: ‘Labels are important in a lot of cases, but they shouldn’t be used in a divisive way’

BORN IN CHICAGO, Osnalza Ortiz is a surgical technologist and mother who lives in Glen Ellyn, Ill., a west Chicago suburb. “I am mainly Puerto Rican, and that’s what I’ve always connected with and identified myself as when people ask,” Ortiz, 49, said. 

What do you think of the term Latinx to identify people of Latin American or Spanish background?

I think the term is acceptable, as long as someone doesn’t purposefully tell you they don’t want to be grouped into that term. Overall, I think it’s just an easier way to talk about a generalized group of people who are all of Latin descent. However, if someone has a problem with it then respect their boundaries because no one can identify you properly how you want to be known except yourself.

Do you feel like Latinx is just an excuse for corporations to lump all Latino cultures together?

In many cases, yes. It’s a more convenient way to categorize for sure, but it certainly does take away from the uniqueness of each individual culture that is thrown into this term, ‘Latinx.’ Corporations will do this with Caucasian people a lot too, as long as they have no reason to know who’s Italian, Irish, or whatever other European nationality. The less amount of work they have to do, the better for them, and they’ll take advantage of this.

Has your experience as a Latinx person isolated you to the way you grew up, or have you been able to branch out culturally?

I wouldn’t call it ‘isolated.’ In some ways, yes; I grew up in a different culture and household setting than a lot of people around me growing up. However, I was in Chicago so the feeling of isolation was never there. I’m thankful to have begun life in such a diverse city. Yes, there were challenges of branching out culturally, but when aren’t there challenges to that? I think meeting childhood friends of different backgrounds than my own is the best thing that could’ve happened to me in terms of where it’s helped me get to today.

“This culture is crucial to understanding who I am, and I’ll say it loud and proud that I’m Puerto Rican.”

As a U.S. born, does it bother you to be labeled? Why?

No and yes. If someone labels me in a demeaning way, then yes. However, everybody has labels. It’s how the world works, and it’s how people differentiate from each other. I think labels are important in a lot of cases, but they shouldn’t be used in a divisive way. I have no problem being called Puerto Rican because that’s what I am, or being called ‘Latinx’ because I am of Latin descent, but if these terms make you think less of me or make you think I don’t belong in a certain place or position, then there’s where we have a problem.

Do you speak Spanish? How do you view Spanish as an attribute of your identity? How important it is?

I do speak Spanish. I’ve taught my kids Spanish. It’s an important part of the household, even though it’s not the primary language any of us use with each other. With the food we make in this household, the Spanish language was inevitable to rub off on the kids anyway. I feel that Spanish is used in my family more so to identify things we take from our Puerto Rican heritage. This culture is crucial to understanding who I am, and I’ll say it loud and proud that I’m Puerto Rican. I feel that having confidence in who you are, in any case, gives you an important edge.

Would you say your culture is “better” than someone else’s who is of a different ethnicity or country?

No, absolutely not. For my own personal preference, obviously I’m going to say Puerto Rican is better than other cultures just for pride in the greatness of who I am, but that’s what everyone should do. The only thing is that people should be able to do this without putting other ethnicities and cultures down. I love my culture because I grew up in it and it’s who I am. This makes Puerto Rican better in my own mind, but it’s all subjective and we have to realize and respect that.

Does cultural appropriation bother you? 

No. I eat my food, dance my dances, sing my songs. And you can do the same, whomever you are, however you want to. That’s how I feel because it’s just taking pleasure in some fun, and I don’t care if a white person enjoys Puerto Rican food. If anything, it’s a compliment that people would want to add their own touch to my culture’s food. Just don’t advertise your new version as this ‘hot new thing’ because the original, authentic will always deserve the credit.

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