Hispanic Or Latino?

Sandra Cisneros, a Mexican American novelist and poet, was hopping mad. She had walked into Valenzuela’s Latino Bookstore in Austin thinking she had found a treasure, but then a clerk made an offensive remark.

“She used the word Hispanic,” Cisneros said, her voice dripping with indignation. “I wanted to ask her, ‘Why are you using that word?’

“People who use that word don’t know why they’re using it,” said Cisneros, a Mexican American poet and novelist. “To me, it’s like a slave name. I’m a Latina.”

Just as Americans of African descent rejected “Negro” for “black” and “black” for “African American” and just as people with disabilities rejected “crippled” for “handicapped” and “handicapped” for “disabled,” many Americans of Iberian or Latin American descent are now rejecting “Hispanic” for “Latino.”

Although the terms Latino and Hispanic have been used interchangeably for decades, experts who have studied their meanings say the words trace the original bloodlines of Spanish speakers to different populations in opposite parts of the world.

Hispanics derive from the mostly white Iberian peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal, while Latinos are descended from the brown indigenous Indians of the Americas south of the United States and in the Caribbean, conquered by Spain centuries ago.

“Latino” is becoming the politically preferred term, but not all, well, Hispanics agree.

“I’ll tell you why I like the word Hispanic,” said the Panamanian president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. “If we use the word Latino, it excludes the Iberian peninsula and the Spaniards. The Iberian peninsula is where we came from. We all have that little thread that’s from Spain.”

It’s clear that this name change, like other similar ones, is motivated much more by politics than actual ethnicity.

A survey of the community conducted last year by the Pew Hispanic Center of Washington found that nearly all people from Spanish-speaking backgrounds identify themselves primarily by their place of national origin….

“It’s a great gift that the government of the United States gave us,” said Vincent Pinzon, the Colombian president and founder of the Americas Foundation. “If you want to acquire political muscle in this country, and you say you’re just Argentinian or Colombian, then you have none.”

Say What? (7)

  1. Doug Sundseth August 26, 2003 at 2:05 pm | | Reply

    So, is it appropriate to call a French-speaking Canadian a Latineaux? I’d hate to appear to show disrespect to any of our Latin-American friends.


  2. Cobb August 27, 2003 at 5:11 pm | | Reply

    Richard Rodriguez is the first person I have ever heard who gave a sound logical reason for the term Hispanic. He said that by Richard Nixon creating the term and allowing people to check that and another race on the Census, America has inadvertantly created a new community. Whereas Colombians had no reason to associate themselves with Mexican, the Hispanic designation made them fellows of a sort.

    Rodriguez says that Latino is exactly derivative of the racial stereotype, but Hispanic is a language distinction, a distinction of choice. What has blossomed in terms of spanish language creations in the US has created something where there was nothing.

  3. Rossanea August 27, 2003 at 7:21 pm | | Reply

    But Sandra’s just professionly pissed off. god forbid she didn’t get noticed.

  4. Joanne Jacobs August 29, 2003 at 4:17 am | | Reply

    About 10 years ago, the San Jose Mercury News did a survey to see whether local Hispanic/Latinos preferred the former or the latter. It was a tie. A minority went for Mexican-American, Chicano and other variations.

  5. Laura August 29, 2003 at 6:39 pm | | Reply

    Here’s what bugs me about the term “Latino”. It can mean male Hispanics or Hispanics of undetermined sex or, in a group, male and female Hispanics. “Latina” specifically means female only. The feminist in me balks at the idea that the default is male, and the analytical person in me is distressed by the fact that in Joanne’s post, one doesn’t know whether female Hispanics were asked their opinion. The gender-neutral or plural term should be “Latin”/”Latins”. In my unasked-for opinion.

  6. Alejandro Sergio Marí June 22, 2004 at 6:31 pm | | Reply

    To Doug

    If I’m not wrong, “Latin America” was a label pressed by Louis Napoleon/Napoleon III to somehow justify French meddling in American Continent on a ethnical/linguistical ground. In those days, a widely accepted concept to classify “peoples” and “nations” was about a common language root, which otherwise is the only “almost sound” standard to make labels like “Aryan” and “Semitic”. Eventually, these “linguistical” classification was taken by Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism, and also caused a lot of trouble into the Austro-Hungarian Empire (between Germans, Slavians and Magyars)

    If you ask me, I’m against both “Latino” and “Hispanic”. Latino encompass Italian, Portuguese and French – otherwise they’d be of Celtic breed (like many Galicians or Bretons). Hispanic encompass from a Communist Cuban with a good amount of African heritage to a quarter Mayan-blood Mexican or Guatemalan to a basically Italic Argentinian to the very same Don Juan Carlos and his son Don Felipe (a quienes Dios guarde muchos años).

    Long time ago, “Hispanism” was the scholarly study and apreciation of authors like Cervantes, Lope de Vega o Calderón de la Barca. I wonder how many “Latino” or “Hispanic” youth nowadays have ever take a glance on a couple pages from the Quixote (of course, same applies to Anglo boys and the Bard…) If you prefer a Totalitarian trend, the Spanish Civil War was “the Crusade for Hispanity and Christdom against the Jewish-Masonic Bolshevism” (I’m not shitting you, man.)

    “Hacia donde marcha España?” “Por Dios hacia el Imperio!”

    “España Una, Grande y Libre”

    “Arriba España!” “Arriba siempre!”

    “como el Caudillo quiere y José Antonio soñaba”

    etcetera, etcetera.

  7. A.J (Angelica, Juanita) November 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm | | Reply

    So I’m reading all your comments and I also read Darryl Fears essay, but to tell you the truth I’m still caught between many different words to classify myself. Latino, Mexican-American, Chicano, etc. The reason for my curiosity is I was recently assigned a research paper and didn’t know what to research, then a few days later I needed to see the doctor for an annual physical. It was the first time I had been to the this new doctor and the first time I have done my own paper work,(I’m only 19.) I was told to fill out paper work and the only 3 ethnic groups they had were Caucasian, black, and Indian. So I went back to the front desk and asked, “What am I?” the lady said to check Caucasian. But my mother is what we consider Chicana: a daughter of Hispanic culture and Spanish language but born in the United States, and my father is Mexican: born and raised in Mexico. Therefore what am I and what should I claim my ethnicity as? Caucasian because I was born in the United States, or Hispanic, Latin, or Mexican-American: because I’m a “half breed” between two, but very, if not the same, cultures?

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