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HOW ITALIAN-AMERICAN MISS UNIVERSE BECAME 'LATINA'

On December 19, Olivia Culpo won Miss Universe 2012. Olivia grew up in Rhode Island, and is the daughter of Susan and Peter Culpo. Her father is of Italian descent and her mother is of Irish and Italian ancestry.

Both of her parents are musicians, and Olivia began studying cello in the second grade. In Rhode Island, she participated in the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, Bay View Orchestra, All-State Orchestra, in the Boston Youth Symphony, and played in Boston Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, and in England. She has played alongside world-renowned classical musician Yo-Yo Ma. Olivia is not a wall-flower spending her time worrying about shaping eyebrows; she is a nerd, as her father calls her, and a very talented musician.

Here comes the fun part: the Huffington Post published the news of her winning the contest in the Latin section and it created a war among commentators. The mildest comments were: “She is Italian, not Latina, get it straight” while somebody else clarified the term in an attempt to bring peace “The original Latins were an Italic tribe inhabiting central and south-central Italy. Through conquest by their city-state Rome, they culturally "Latinized" the rest of Italy. Subsequently other regions, particularly the European ones such as Spain, Romania, Portugal and France became culturally "Latinized" by the Roman Empire”. So Italians and Latinos could be considered the same people.

We believe that all the people in the world belong to the same family. The point is not including Italians in the Latino world, the point is that Europeans called it Latin America in the 1800s. Now that we have better accounts of history, better maps and geography books available to everybody, why are we calling ‘Latinas’ women from Central and South America considering all the countries these bodies of land include, languages, and all the completely different ethnicities?

Mexico has an area of 761,606 square miles, and a population of 113,910,608. They have their own history starting 23,000 years ago, long before Rome was even built. Mexicans are different from Argentineans or Ecuadorian or Jamaican people, different history, different foods, different customs. If Salma Hayek wins an Oscar you don’t need to hear or read ‘Latina actress wins’, you want to hear ‘Mexican actress wins’. Because if Maria Grazia Cucinotta wins an Oscar they would never say “European actress wins”. Are we still so Eurocentric?

IMAGE:

photo by JULIE JACOBSON/AP