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Golden Scholars: Berkeley professors ponder Hispanics vs. Latinos and find everything is just getting hotter

Berkeley professors work on the Hispanic/Latino identity and find climate change is making more problems. Ugh, you're such a troublemaker, climate change.

Hm, wouldn't it be great if there were a fire-related Cal picture to put here...
Hm, wouldn't it be great if there were a fire-related Cal picture to put here...

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As you may recall, one of the first Berkeley researchers we've profiled in this series was Jennifer Doudna and her work in genetic engineering. Technology Review recently named genome editing as one of the ten breakthrough technologies in 2014 and recognized Doudna as a key player in the field.

Also, Berkeley was recognized as one of the 15 best universities for entrepreneurship.

The birth of Hispanics

Confession: I have no idea what sociology is all about. Meaning I'm perfectly qualified by CGB standards to talk about the latest Berkeley sociology news!

Professor G. Christina Mora—who's a professor at Berkeley and got her undergrad degree from the greatest public university in the world—recently published a book called "Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New America." What does that even mean‽ I have no idea, but she describes it as:

It's a story about people being disadvantaged, being a statistically reliable group and being consumers. All of these elements came together in an almost perfect storm in the 1970s when activists, the media and government bureaucrats learned how to work together to put out this pan-ethnic message.

Well, one of the interesting facets of her work is looking into the differences between the identities of "Hispanic" and "Latino." Now this isn't just arguing semantics. Defining these distinctions is important to properly illustrate problems based on demographics, such as poverty, and unified a number of groups that felt divided.

Over time, the Hispanic identity has become based on cultural generalities such as ‘We all love our families. We are all religious and we all have some connection to the Spanish language however far back that may be.' That's a weakness and a strength. It was because of that ambiguity that we have the large numbers who identify as Hispanic and who have made advances. But when you have such a broad and opaque category it's hard to elicit and sustain passion and commitment.

Mora (not the Bruin) also discusses the distinction between "Hispanic" and "Latino," which is split in terms of usage nearly 50/50 based on regional preference.

Hispanic generally refers to the way that Latin Americans are united through their connection to Spain and their links to Spanish culture and tradition. Spaniards would be included in this formulation, but Brazilians would not. Latino, on the other hand, is usually used to refer to the way that Latin Americans are connected to one another via their common history of colonization. Spaniards, then, would not be part of this formulation, while Brazilians might. Yet for the most part, these labels and categories are ambiguous and lots of organizations and institutions invest in keeping these terms as ambiguous and as broad as possible.

Wildfires are wild

Swoop and Oski have joined forces to conduct a research project studying the incidence of wildfires in the western US over the past 30 years.

Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last 30 years - a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become more severe in the coming decades, according to new research.

The study focused on fires that covered a surface area larger than 1000 acres in a timespan ranging from 1984 to 2011. Utah's Philip Dennison and Berkeley's Max Moritz found that each year there was increase of roughly seven fires and the largest wildfire each year grew by 350 acres. These increases were determined to be statistically significant with less than a 1% chance of the increase being a random occurrence. What could be causing this phenomenon? Why, our old friend, climate change. Hello, climate change. Are you well?

Is there anything we can't blame on climate change?

The researchers are hesitant to definitively nail down climate change as the sole culprit; Moritz is confident the two are correlated, while other researchers think there are other shenanigans afoot, like invasive species and past fire-fighting actions. So, when you fight fire with fire, you just cause future fire? Are we time-traveling again?

[The study] says the observed changes in fire activity are in line with long-term, global fire patterns that climate models have projected will occur as temperatures increase and droughts become more severe in the coming decades due to global warming.

"Most of these trends show strong correlations with drought-related conditions which, to a large degree, agree with what we expect from climate change projections," said Moritz.

Personally, I'm a little skeptical that we're getting more wildfires annually considering we haven't had a Big Game Bonfire since 2011...