Informing the Latino Community Online on Issues Impacting Your Life

August 17, 2009

Latino or Hispanic - A Note on Terminology

Marid Gonzalez
Bilingual Market Consultant

Last year, I wrote a paper on the meaning of each term according to the people being categorized. Aside from the literature review, I interviewed eight self-identified Latinos or Hispanics and this were my findings.

There is no current agreement on which of the two official terms “Latino” or “Hispanic” is more accurate. Researchers (Oboler, 1995; Davila, 2001) indicate that either label “Hispanic” and “Latino” lump together and inaccurately define a group of people that span several generations, nationalities, and socioeconomics and that “both terms are equally guilty of erasing differences while encompassing highly heterogeneous populations” (Davila, 2001). For purposes of inclusion and based on the differences in meaning of each label among the people being categorized, I have chosen to use both labels and place them in that order for easy reading but the order is not to be read as a preference.

Since its inception by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1977, the term Hispanic has been both controversial and accepted by different circles to categorize people with ancestry in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries of the Western hemisphere. Some argue that choosing one label over the other is a matter of assimilation while others choose a label to state pride of having developed an agreeable ethnic identity. Several authors (Martin, 2005; Acuña, 2000; Gonzales, 1999; Rodriguez, 2007) acknowledge the political implications behind the choice of a specific label. Martin (2005) in particular proposes to analyze the term Latino in the context of “reinterpretation” of an existing name that has sprung from political movements dating back to the 1960’s (p. 397). Other researchers (Korzenny & Korzenny, 2005; Rodriguez, 2007; Davila, 2001) recognize a different and significant dynamic - the capitalizing of the consumer power through the use of the label Hispanic which is representative of a common linguistic indicator.

The term Hispanic is inaccurate because it is not perceived by the receivers as representative of their “broader culture” and because it implies that “all” Latino/Hispanic speak Spanish. The term Hispanic does however speak of the Spanish colonization from which the Spanish language was instituted. Yet, not all people who live in Latin America speak Spanish. However, the term Hispanic is seen as convenient through the use of census data to make the case for the allocation of funds that support language-based social service programs and for marketers and advertisers to sell Spanish media programs by arguing that if not all, the majority of Hispanics prefer to speak Spanish.

Individuals who are more aware of the labels’ socio-politics argue that neither the term Hispanic nor Latino applies to them because they want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes more commonly attached to Mexican immigrants and people of Mexican descent who have dealt with a second colonization by historically being categorized as second-class group since the time their first-class citizenship rights were stripped off them in the nineteen century when the U.S. west border moved further south.

Californians in contrast to New Mexicans prefer using the term Latino(a) when given the choice between Latino(a) and Hispanic. For Californians, Latino is the new Chicano in that it evokes their indigenous roots, a shared history of struggle and the colonization of the people in Latin American countries. Latino as a term is self-appropriated; it comes from the people which might have been the legacy from the Chicano movement. It is not surprising that Latinos in California are more aware of the political connotation of the term Latino because "Chicano studies departments are at public universities in the Southwestern United States, particularly in California” (Wikipedia, Chicano studies, 1).

1 comment:

Bryant Hillas said...

Very interesting indeed. Though they are separate matters, I think the dichotomy you explore between Hispanic/Latino has a corrolary in the dichotomy I bring up in a blog post of my own on the subject of Spanish/Castilian. If you're interested, I invite you to read it at http://translation-blog.trustedtranslations.com/language-history-and-politics-2009-08-18.html. I very much enjoyed your perspective; I hope you can find something interesting in my own.



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