BORN AND RAISED in Chicago, Noel Santiago is a 32-year-old police officer at the Chicago Police Department. Currently living in the Hermosa Park neighborhood, with a 90.5% Hispanic or Latino population of any race, Santiago is Puerto Rican, who identifies himself as a Latino. “I consider myself a Latino…and I am proud of it,” he says.
What do you think of the term Latinx to identify people of Latin American or Spanish background?
I do not really understand what that means…so it’s hard for me to answer that question. I’ve never heard the term Latinx.
That’s okay. A quick definition of Latinx is a person of Latin American origin or descent and is used as a gender neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina. So it’s pretty much a way to include everyone versus being specific to what gender you are.
Well, since this is the first time I am hearing that word, it’s hard for me to give you an answer on what I feel about it.
With what you know about it now, and the context I have given you. Do you feel like Latinx could be used as an excuse for corporations to lump all Latino cultures together?
Well, yes, in that case. I don’t really like that phrase because everyone’s culture is different. You look at Mexican culture and you look at Ecuadorian culture and while there are similarities, I am sure it’s different. Like Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, you can say it’s all the same but it’s really not.
So do you feel like the term Latinx, while it is meant to be inclusive, do you think it could isolate people?
Yes. When I was younger people would just assume I was Mexican. And I would get somewhat offended because I am not. I am Puerto Rican, and there’s a difference to us, but to others it’s like we are all the same. It’s one thing to be a proud Latino, it’s another thing to be proud of where you are from.
As a U.S. born citizen, does it bother you to be labeled? Why?
I don’t mind them labeling me Latino. That’s fine because, like I said, I am proud of where I am from. Luckily, I was born in the United States, but it would be the same thing if I were born in Puerto Rico, since it’s a U.S. territory. I guess that’s one way to look at it. I don’t mind them labeling me a Latino because that’s what I am, right?
Do you speak Spanish? How do you view Spanish as an attribute of your identity? How important is Spanish to you?
Spanish to me is very important. For someone who was born in Chicago, a lot of the time the language does skip generations. I know a lot of Latinos who don’t speak Spanish. I do think speaking Spanish is a big attribute to have, especially in my line of work. Being the police and having to answer calls, having that ability to speak Spanish to better help people when they don’t know how to speak English that well, or at all. It should be in your culture to speak Spanish. Sometimes people look at their last names and they look at you like, “What? You don’t speak Spanish?” So, I think it’s very important.
For those who are Latino and don’t speak Spanish, do you think that makes them any less Latino?
No, you are born from a bloodline of Latinos. You can never say, “Oh, he doesn’t speak Spanish, he’s not a real Latino.” I think that some people might look at it differently and say he or she isn’t a real Latino because they don’t speak Spanish. Unfortunately, that sucks, but just because you don’t speak Spanish doesn’t make you any less.
I know you said, you are very proud of being Puerto Rican and very proud of being Latino. Would you say your culture is better than someone else’s of a different ethnicity?
No, I wouldn’t say that. Like I said I am very proud of being Puerto Rican, I think as a Latino you should be proud of where you are from, and even if you are not Latino you should be proud of where you are from … There’s a lot of things in every culture that make them unique. I am proud of where I am from, but I do not think I am better than anyone else or that my culture is better than anyone else’s.
“It’s one thing to be a proud Latino; it’s another thing to be proud of where you are from.”
Does cultural appropriation bother you?
I don’t know … I think I would be happy if someone was trying to sell Puerto Rican rice in a non-Latino setting … I think it’s a way to experience someone else’s culture. It can give people an idea of what it’s like to be in that culture. In terms of clothing, I think you can wear whatever you want to wear. You shouldn’t have to think I can’t wear this because people are going to slam me and say all these things about me.
I want to go back to what we were talking about earlier with your work as a Latino. Do you think being Latino has affected you being an officer?
It depends on where you work. Currently I am in the west side of Chicago so there’s not a lot of Latinos so sometimes it’s hard to connect with the community…but a lot of the time if I pull someone over who’s Puerto Rican and you are Puerto Rican they automatically assume, “Oh this guy’s going to give me a break because we are both the same. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t look at someone and say, “Oh, this guy is Puerto Rican so I am going to give him a break, or, this guy is Black so I am not going to give him a break.” In my line of work you have to look past that and make sure you treat everyone the same.
What made you want to become a police officer?
I wanted to make a difference in my community. As someone who grew up in Chicago, I know the difficulties that most of the youth face, and I believe that the knowledge that I have gained over the years can help make a difference in someone’s life.
What are some of those difficulties that come with living in Chicago?
Some of the obstacles kids face are bullying, not enough after school programs, such as sports, and most importantly staying away from gangs and drugs. I know for me personally, sports [were] the thing that helped me so much growing up, and I believe it’s a great way to stay out of trouble. A reason I like working for the CPD is because they have programs that help with community outreach, such as food drives, or providing kids with school supplies, and something so small like that can really help.
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