I know this may seem to some as a simple semantics issue, but it’s still one of much debate—should we as a community be called Latino or Hispanic?
I often get this question, primarily from individuals who want to make sure they’re not offending anybody and want to use the proper term. But is there really a proper term? Or at least one that accurately portrays who we are?
There is a backlash within some in our community against the term Hispanic because it was originally used by the government to label and classify us is census forms and other databases. We of course rebelled against the government placing a label on our hodgepodge group, so we did what came naturally—we placed an equally inadequate label on ourselves…Latino.
So what’s in a name? When it comes to the terms Latino and Hispanic, quite a bit. Let’s take Latino for instance. Latino refers to individuals from Latin America. While that may sound quite general and inclusive, it’s actually quite the opposite. The term Latino leaves out our friends from Spain, with whom we have strong language, historical and cultural bonds. It also leaves out folks from the Caribbean, who have such a strong influence on our culture. How can we leave out people from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Curaçao and others?
Not only does it leave out groups who should be included, it also includes groups who perhaps don’t share the same culture as the group being identified. French Guiana, located in South America, would be considered Latino, even though their language and culture are French. What about Suriname, also in South America? They’re Dutch! Belize in Central America has English as their primary language. As does Guyana in South America, which was previously a British colony. And if we want to raise even more eyebrows, what about Brazil? The largest country in Latin America shares a lot of cultural traits, but not the language. Or what about Latinos in the United States, which is, after all, not part of Latin America?
It seems like the term Latino ill-represents who we are as a community.
Does the term Hispanic fare any better? Not really. Hispanic was originally used to denote a relationship with Hispania, or more specifically, Spain. So it referred to countries that had been formally ruled by the Spanish Empire. Hispanic is now more commonly used to refer to people who are from Spanish-speaking countries.
While that may seem a broad enough label, it is limiting in many ways. Do third generation immigrants from Honduras living in the United States no longer count as Hispanic if they don’t speak Spanish? Are we really excluding Brazilians, with whom we share so much culture and history? Does one have to speak Spanish to be Hispanic?
While all those questions merit answers, let me pose a more critical one: Why are we so infatuated with creating a label for ourselves? As we know, Mexicanos are very different from Argentinos. Puerto Riceños and Brasileiros each have their own culture. There are a lot of things that bring us together, but we shouldn’t lose our cultures’ individual traits in the process. Why are we trying to homogenize a group that is so richly diverse and beautiful in its differences, and lump it all under one banner?
So is it Latino or Hispanic? I say neither…and who cares? Let’s instead focus on the individuals and who they are. Embrace their background, culture and language…for that’s what makes them who they are.