Breaking the Myth of the Monolith: Generational Identities and the Latino Community

Generational identities BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina.

What marks generational differences in our community? Could we successfully identify the pre-RBD and post-RBD Latinos? How deep does the generational difference between the 1990s’ Daddy Yankee and 2022s’ Bad Bunny go? Can El Chapulín Colorado be the all-encompassing superhero bridge between generational Latino identities?

The generational gap in American society seems easier to identify, from “Ok, Boomer” memes to Millennials complaining on TikTok about the structural financial inability of “adulthood” or even Gen Z’s hilarious email correspondence. But how do these generational gaps translate to Latinos? 

Understanding generational identities

According to Huan Chen, a generational cohort is supposed to have distinguishing characteristics exclusively attached to that specific group. These characteristics, then, create a generational identity that draws the difference between one generation and another. Chen explains that generational identities are constructed socially and depend on social factors. They can be seen, understood, and used as a social identity, allowing individuals to identify with their generation as a form of self. 

Joshi, Dencker, Franz, and Martocchio have placed three facets of generational identity, taking from past scholarship on the topic that has taken three broad approaches to conceptualizing generations:

Cohort-based identity is a cohort of individuals that experiences a particular event, such as organizational entry, within a specific interval. The relationship processes between generations are based on different employment outcomes, such as senior/tenured or junior/untenured positions in a company that might have different perspectives. Membership in this type of generational identity is viewed as a substitution for the traits, behaviors, and relationships of individuals who belong to each cohort. 

Age-based identity is based on membership within an age group that shares collective memories during formative years of life, such as historical events (2008 recession, COVID pandemic, etc.); it’s based on different attitudes and values toward work and employment. The generational succession goes from older generations to younger generations.  

Incumbency-based identity consists of the heritage of kinship, especially related to familial ties and periods in a specific role, such as a parent, child, or grandparent. Bengston identifies younger generations replacing older ones while recognizing that these generations coexist in family units as a critical notion in kinship-based perspectives. 

Latinos can see their generational identity in the making in this last category. 

Latino generational identities 

Generational identities apply to the grand population of Latinos due to the significant differences between abuelita’s generation, our parents’ generation, ours, and our younger siblings and primitos generation. To deny that historical events, age, social movements, and political and economic waves shape us is impossible. 

Being children or grandchildren of immigrants or immigrants ourselves shapes our worldview and structures our thoughts. A role-based generational identity may be defined as occupancy in an organizational role that must be understood to be finite, has been occupied by a successor (i.e., our mothers), and will be occupied by a predecessor (i.e., our daughters). It allows for kinship descent-based generations to examine value transmission between parents and children and to contrast social mobility patterns between these generations.

Joshi, Dencker, Franz, and Martocchio also identified two different intergenerational interactions: Resistive and Transmitive intergenerational interactions. The first one reflects the unsuccessful transfer of knowledge, skills, or resources associated with a generation, whereas the second one involves the successful transfer of the same factors. 

As the authors mention, transmitive intergenerational interactions are more likely between incumbency-based generations due to individuals assigning positive talent to the role relationship, which allows for cooperation and trust between preceding and succeeding generations. 

Bengtson, Elder, and Putney suggest that transmitive interactions between preceding, current, and succeeding incumbents involve empathy, mutual care, altruism, and beneficence, which is adaptable to the incumbency-based identity facet identified above. 

Basically, family generations are more likely to transmit knowledge, skills, and resources through time. 

As a matter of fact, the relationships of multigenerational families are predicted to be characterized by intergenerational transference of economic resources and nurturance, such as the accumulation of steppingstones and upwards mobility that follows younger generations of Latinos in the U.S. Generations have a “protective value” that highlights the integrative potential of intergenerational relationships in families. 

Crossing generational borders 

As seen in through incumbency-based generational identities, Latinos do have generational identities that make a clear distinction between generations. 

However, according to the Pew Research Center, Latinos in the U.S. have the strongest cultural connection to older generations. Data shows that we are the community that feels the strongest cultural connection to our families’ origins, with 71 percent of respondents stating as such in the survey, compared to White (36 percent) and Black (61 percent) communities’ cultural connections. 

Latinos’ cultural character and identity are built through a series of movements that consider all possible affecting factors such as social actions, political situation, economic crisis, family traditions, and psychological events. 

As argued by Michael J. Urick, individuals do not “solely define themselves by one group in which they belong.” In generational identity theories, under the organizational framework, individuals also define themselves as members of a department, or a team, within a larger organization as well as a larger social group such as a particular generation. 

Kreiner, Hollensbe, and Sheep state that personal identities can overlap with group identities. Individuals can take from multiple groups to which they belong for different reasons to define and redefine themselves. 

Latinos excel at crossing identity borders by creating permeable and flexible identities that fluctuate depending on the group membership (Latino, first-generation, women, queer, Central American.)  

This is precisely why a member of a particular generation might not define themselves as such in all situations. This generational identity can overlap with other identities that are also salient to the individual. Yes, we can be Gen Z and rely on Vicks Vapo Rub for absolutely everything. Traditionality has no generation boundaries. 

Some of the main factors that affect the identity of Latinos cross-generational are acculturation, defined by Sean Valentine as the social process characterized by cultural changes that occur when individuals originating from one country accept a host country’s culture.

Second is generational migrations, being divided into first-generation (first immigrants), second-generation (offspring of the first immigrants), and third-generation continuously; this factor affects Latinos’ worldview and the stepping stones, heritage, and mobility that will put them forward beyond the preceding generation. And finally, the impacts of dualism, not being entirely anything, and struggling with dual language, dual culture, dual identities, and conflicting worldviews. 

Generational identities can (and should) be applied to the grand Latino population; indeed, culture identity studies would be greatly advanced if they considered the generational gaps between the same collective. 

We definitely can tell who knew Shakira before or after “Hips Don’t Lie,” but does that make a difference at all in our shared Latino culture? Perhaps, Latino generational identities are exactly as Alma Madrigal held: “We’re not just protecting what we have, but all that could be and everything that should be.”