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The “Hispanic” or “Latino” Question

Posted May 15th, 2012 by UHDS News

Hispanic. I hear this term a lot in the media to describe people that look and sound like me: brown skin, Spanish speaking, ancestry from Latin American countries, or, simply someone who has a Spanish-sounding last name.

However, I also hear the term Latina/o to describe the same people. So what is the “correct” way to refer to a person like me? I have asked myself the same question because a lot of people are now confused of the difference is between Latino and Hispanic. To even begin to understand this topic we need to ask the real question: Where do these terms originate and why?

Well according to an article entitled The Origin of the Term ‘Hispanic’ it all got started in the 1970’s when Grace Flores-Hughes worked as an assistant in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Flores-Hughes created the term “Hispanic” to categorize people for governmental data. The category was created for people that spoke Spanish as their first language. Ten years later in 1980, the term Hispanic was used in the U.S. census to define a group that was hard to determine by other factors such as race.  From my understanding, the term was only created to artificially categorize people.

As I did my research on the terms, I found in an article called Latinos or Hispanics? A Debate About Identity by Darryl Fears. This is what the article had to say on the matter:

“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.”

The source of each term has a very different root and is often interpreted in different ways. So, again I ask, who is Hispanic and/or Latino? Well it depends how each person identifies. For example, I see myself as a Latina. I always thought of the term Hispanic as something “bad”; probably because I associate the term “spic”, a derogatory racial slur for the Latino community.

What I have learned is that your identity as a Hispanic and/or Latino also depends on what region you live in the US. For example, in my personal experience, people that live on the east coast are more acceptable toward the term Hispanic, while people on the west coast see themselves as Latinos. I’m not sure why this occurs, but I imagine it has to do with cultural legacies and norms in that particular region. The use of either terminology is a hard topic to discuss due to the influence of the media and the stereotypes people create in their mind about the terms as well.

The question still comes up, who is Hispanic or Latino? I don’t really think there is a right or wrong answer to this question. No one individual or authority can really factually say who is or isn’t Hispanic and/or Latino; people see themselves differently and identify as such. The important thing to remember is to pay attention to how people identify. The best way to learn more about this subject is to bridge a conversation with individuals. You may ask, “I heard you describe yourself as “Latino”; what does that mean to you?” You may be surprised and learn much by their answer.

Thank you for reading,

Angelica Perez, Community Relations Facilitator

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